US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East peace envoy Jared Kushner directed then-adviser Michael Flynn to contact Russian officials in a bid to quash a UN Security Council resolution regarding Israeli settlements, according to reports in US media.
Earlier on Friday, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI over his contacts with Russia, in a dramatic escalation of the probe into possible collusion between the president’s campaign team and Moscow.
The 58-year-old Flynn — a retired three-star Army general — is the most senior figure indicted in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s sprawling investigation into Russian interference in last year’s election.
Flynn’s admission that he had secret discussions in December 2016 with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak — with direction from top officials in Trump’s presidential transition team — set Washington abuzz with speculation as to who in the Republican leader’s inner circle might next be in Mueller’s sights.
According to reports citing anonymous White House officials, one of the “very senior” officials advising Flynn to contact the Russian envoy was Kushner.
Kushner reportedly directed Flynn to contact foreign government officials, including from Russia, about a UN Security Council resolution regarding Israeli settlements.
In a striking rupture with past practice, the Obama administration refrained from vetoing the December 2016 condemnation of Israeli settlement expansion, opting instead to abstain. The rest of the 15-nation Security Council, including Russia, voted against Israel. At the time, Israel was lobbying furiously against the resolution and the Trump team spoke up on behalf of the Jewish state.
Former US officials and foreign diplomats said Kushner led the unsuccessful effort to defeat that UN vote.
During his conversation with Kislyak, prosecutors say, Flynn requested that Russia vote against or delay the resolution, though he admitted in his plea deal that he later lied to the FBI by saying he had not made that request.
Flynn’s guilty plea, on one federal charge of making false statements to investigators, came with a pledge to cooperate with Mueller, whose focus goes beyond possible collusion with Russia to shady business dealings and whether Trump himself tried to thwart the investigation.
The White House rejected the idea that Flynn could implicate “anyone” else, as ABC News reported that Flynn would testify that Trump ordered him to reach out to Moscow — news that sent Wall Street shares tumbling.
“I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong,” Flynn said in a statement after a brief appearance in federal court in the US capital.
“My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the special counsel’s office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions,” he said.
The charge normally carries up to five years in prison, but under the terms of the plea deal, Mueller says he has recommended a lighter sentence of only up to six months in jail, court filings show.