Ex-Trump aide Flynn pleads guilty to lying about Russia links

Washington (AFP) –


Donald Trump's former top advisor Michael Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying over his contacts with Russia, in a dramatic escalation of the FBI's probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

The fourth, and most senior, figure indicted so far in the investigation into Russian interference in last year's election, Flynn appeared in federal court in Washington for a plea hearing less than two hours after the charges against him were made public.

"Yes, sir," the retired three star general and former military intelligence chief said when asked if he wanted to plead guilty.

"I accept your guilty plea," responded Judge Rudolph Contreras, adding: "There will be no trial and there will be probably no appeal."

Flynn was charged Thursday with one count of lying about his private discussions with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, regarding US sanctions being imposed on Moscow by the government of then president Barack Obama.

"On or about January 24, 2017, defendant Michael T. Flynn did willfully and knowingly make materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements and representations" over a government matter, federal prosecutors said in the two-page charge sheet.

At the time Flynn was a campaign advisor with no official US government role, but it was known that he would likely become Trump's White House national security advisor -- a post he was forced to resign in February, just weeks after the president took office, due to concerns over his contacts with Russia.

- Interfering with Obama policies -

The charges allege that Flynn falsely denied to investigators that last December, just as the Obama administration was announcing new sanctions and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats over Moscow's interference in the 2016 election, Flynn privately asked Kislyak to refrain from escalating the situation by retaliating.

Flynn also allegedly lied to investigators about Kislyak's subsequent answer that Russia would moderate its response, according to the charge document.

Flynn, who once headed the Defense Intelligence Agency, is also accused of lying about secretly asking Kislyak in late December to defeat or delay a vote on a pending UN Security Council resolution, according to the charges.

The specific resolution was not detailed, but the discussion was held one day before the Security Council voted to condemn Israel's settlements in Palestinian territory. The Obama administration, in a rare step that shocked its Middle East ally, had abstained on the motion rather than veto it as had been done in the past.

Trump himself days earlier had sought to block the motion, personally asking Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to put it on hold.

- Fourth person charged by Mueller -

The single charge is not expected to end Flynn's legal troubles with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, where he is also under scrutiny over other contacts with Russia and working as an unregistered lobbyist for Turkey before and after the November 8 election.

Flynn is the fourth person to be charged by independent prosecutor Mueller. On October 30 Paul Manafort, Trump's one-time campaign chairman, and Manafort's deputy Rick Gates, were arrested on money laundering and tax-related charges in relation to their work for Moscow-backed Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych.

The same day, charges were unveiled against George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy advisor who had sought to arrange a pre-election meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He also, according to court filings, told campaign officials he could possibly obtain damaging materials on Trump's Democratic rival Hillary Clinton from his Russian contacts.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to investigators in a deal that made clear he was cooperating in their investigation.