By Josh Dawsey and Devlin Barrett
WASHINGTON - Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to a single count of lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, marking another monumental development in the wide-ranging probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III.
The charge relates to false statements Flynn made to the FBI on Jan. 24, four days after President Donald Trump was inaugurated, about his meeting with Kislyak during the transition.
Flynn is accused of making false statements to the FBI about asking the ambassador in late December to “refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed on Russia that same day.” Flynn also told authorities he did not recall the ambassador saying the Russians would moderate their response to the Obama administration sanctions after the conversation.
Separately, authorities say Flynn lied about asking the ambassador to delay a vote on United Nations Security Council resolutions.
As Friday’s court filing makes clear, Flynn has been a major investigative target of the FBI’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. A key question for investigators is whether any Trump associates coordinated with Russian officials to try and sway the presidential race.
Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak are a key issue in the probe, and the plea deal - which still has to be finalized before a judge Friday morning - could open new doors for investigators trying to determine what, if anything, Trump knew about such contacts.
Flynn, a 58-year-old retired Army general who briefly served as Trump’s national security adviser before he was forced to resign, is the first member who served in the Trump administration to be charged in Mueller’s probe.
Flynn has also come under scrutiny for having a secret financial stake in major foreign policy decisions while advising Trump during the campaign, transition and in the brief period he served in the administration.
During the campaign, he was also doing lobbying and consulting work with Flynn Intel Group, the firm he started after he was fired from the Obama administration in 2014.