Michael Flynn points finger at White House team as he pleads guilty to lying to FBI
Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, becoming the first Trump White House official to face criminal charges and admit guilt in a wide-ranging election investigation.
Flynn agreed to co-operate with special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, which focuses on Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible co-ordination between Moscow and Mr Trump's campaign aimed at sending the Republican businessman to the White House
He told investigators a senior member of the president's transition team directed him to make contact with Russian officials in December 2016.
Flynn was an early and vocal Trump supporter on the campaign trail and was present for big moments in the campaign, the following transition period and the early days of Mr Trump's presidency, making him a valuable potential tool for prosecutors and agents.
His business dealings and foreign interactions have made him a central focus of Mr Mueller's investigation.
Flynn admitted to lying about his conversations with Russia's ambassador to the US during the transition period before Mr Trump's inauguration.
In a statement, the retired Army lieutenant general accepted responsibility for his actions and added: "My guilty plea and agreement to co-operate with the Special Counsel's Office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country."
Flynn is the fourth former Trump associate to face charges in the investigation, and the first who served in the White House. He has been under investigation for a range of allegations, including lobbying work on behalf of Turkey, but the fact that he was charged with only a single count of false statements suggests he is co-operating with Mr Mueller in exchange for leniency.
White House lawyer Ty Cobb sought to distance the plea from Mr Trump himself, saying, "Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr Flynn."
Early in his administration, Mr Trump had taken a particular interest in the status of the Flynn investigation. Former FBI director James Comey, whose firing in May precipitated the appointment of Mr Mueller as special counsel, has said Mr Trump had asked him in a private Oval Office meeting to consider ending the investigation into Flynn.
Mr Comey has said the encounter unnerved him so much that he prepared an internal memo about it. The White House has denied that assertion.
Flynn, who was interviewed by the FBI days after Mr Trump's inauguration, was forced to resign in February after White House officials said he had misled them about whether he had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.
Administration officials said Flynn had not discussed sanctions imposed on Russia in part over election meddling. In charging Flynn, prosecutors made clear they believe that claim to be false.
Days after Flynn's interview with the FBI, then-acting attorney general Sally Yates alerted White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn was potentially compromised and vulnerable to blackmail because of discrepancies between public assertions - including by vice president Mike Pence - that Flynn and Mr Kislyak had not discussed sanctions and the reality of what occurred.
Mr Mueller's team announced charges in October against three other Trump campaign officials, former chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates, and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his own foreign contacts.