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Flynn’s guilty plea brings Russia probe into Trump’s inner circle

Observers say President Trump and his legal team would be very worried about several issues arising out of Michael Flynn’s admission of guilt.

world Updated: Dec 03, 2017 15:32 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Michael Flynn,Ex-NSA,Donald trump
Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn departs after a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, in Washington.(REUTERS)

As explosive as the former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s guilty plea was, it did not establish collusion by Trump campaign with Russian meddling in the president elections. What it did do, was take the Russia probe right into the president’s inner circle of campaign aides and advisers who went on to hold crucial positions in his administration.

Flynn was a close adviser to candidate Trump on national security and went on to hold the crucial White House job as NSA, briefing the president daily on national security issues around the world, with access to highly restricted information and deliberations.

And Jared Kushner, who is reportedly the “very senior official” of the transition team who directed Flynn to contact Russia and other countries on a UN Security Council vote on Israel last December, became, and remains, a senior adviser to the president, holding the lead post on West Asia and relations with China, Mexico and Canada.

Flynn has pleaded guilty to the charge of making false statements to FBI investigators about his contacts with Russians, which is a felony, but not to colluding with their alleged meddling, which would nail the case being probed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

That said, President Trump and his legal team would be very worried about several issues arising out of Flynn’s admission of guilt, according to experts and observers.

First, prosecutors only accept a plea deal when the information being offered by the defendant could lead to a bigger catch, someone more crucial in the food chain, someone who perhaps holds the key to the next level. Flynn has already given Mueller’s investigators two names, who have only been identified in court documents as “very senior official” and “senior official”, and who have since been reported to be Kushner and former deputy national security adviser K T McFarland.

And Kushner is as close as it can get to the president, which raises the question if the president knew about these contacts, how much did he know, and did he authorise them?

Trump, who has denied there was any collusion by him or campaign aides with the Russian meddling, has not said anything about his own role in the contacts.

Second, most worrying for the president would be the fact that Flynn is cooperating with the probe under a plea deal and who knows what information or who would be given up. He was, after all, an early supporter and trusted adviser of the candidate.

Read more: Trump's former NSA Flynn pleads guilty to lying to the FBI

Trump’s legal team sought to diminish his role in the Trump circle, describing him in a statement, as “a former national security advisor at the White House for 25 days during the Trump Administration, and a former Obama administration official”. He did serve in the Obama administration, as head of the defence intelligence agency, but was ousted.

In the statement, Ty Cobb, who heads Trump’s legal defence team in regard to the Russia probe, went on to say, “The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year.” And, critically, “Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.”

For now, probably.

There is also George Papadapoulos, a Trump campaign aide, who has also pleaded guilty to lying to FBI and is cooperating with investigators under a plea deal, which would not have been agreed to if he did not have anything useful to offer.

First Published: Dec 02, 2017 09:07 IST