WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump on Saturday shrugged off the bombshell news that his former national security adviser has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and will cooperate with a special prosecutor leading a probe into Russian election meddling.
As the Russia probe overshadowed his big win with Senate passage of landmark tax cuts, Trump again insisted he and his campaign had not colluded with Russia.
But Trump also suggested he has been holding back something important regarding what he knew at the time of ex-security adviser Michael Flynn’s firing.
Special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s focus goes beyond possible collusion with Russia to shady business dealings and whether Trump himself tried to thwart the investigation.
“What has been shown is no collusion. There’s been absolutely no collusion. So we’re very happy,” Trump told reporters Saturday as he prepared to leave for a day trip to New York.
Trump said he was not worried by what Flynn, who pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about contacts he had with the former Russian ambassador, might tell Mueller.
Trump also insisted that Flynn had done nothing wrong during the transition.
And Trump said he had fired Flynn in February, just three weeks into the job, because he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence and the FBI about that those dealings. The revelation changes the timeline of the drama in a potentially dangerous way for Trump.
At the time of Flynn’s dismissal, the White House acknowledged only that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence — not to the FBI, too — about his discussions with the diplomat over sanctions imposed by then-president Barack Obama against Russia for meddling in the election.
“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!” Trump wrote Saturday.
Trump’s ties with Flynn have been under intense scrutiny since FBI director James Comey was fired by the president in May.
Comey testified under oath before a Senate panel in June that a day after Flynn’s firing, Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation into the former national security director.
If Trump’s new statement is accurate, it would mean that when he pressed Comey to drop the probe into Flynn, Trump already knew that Flynn had lied to Comey’s agency.
A lingering part of the drama has been that after the White House learned through the Justice Department that Flynn lied to the White House about discussing sanctions with the ambassador, Trump still waited 18 days to fire him.
Trump fired Comey in May and said he had the Russia probe in mind when he did it. The move backfired and led the Justice Department to appoint Mueller as the special prosecutor.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia. He also said members of the president’s inner circle were intimately involved with — and at times directed — his contacts.
Flynn’s plea to a single felony count of false statements made him the first official of the Trump White House to be charged so far in the criminal investigation by special counsel Mueller. And his action could be an ominous sign for a White House shadowed for the past year by investigations, turning Flynn into a potentially key government cooperator as prosecutors examine whether the Trump campaign and Russia worked together to influence the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor.
Friday’s developments don’t resolve the paramount question of possible Trump-Russia coordination in the campaign, but they do show that Flynn lied to the FBI about multiple conversations last December with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Court papers make clear that senior Trump transition officials were fully aware of Flynn’s outreach to Russian officials in the weeks before the inauguration.
The officials were not named in court papers, but people familiar with the case identified two of them to The Associated Press as Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and former Deputy National Security Adviser KT McFarland, now up for an ambassadorship.