Flynn pleads guilty to lying to FBI, is cooperating with Mueller – Trending Stuff

Washington (CNN)Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about conversations with Russia’s ambassador and disclosed that he is cooperating with the special counsel’s office.

Flynn is the first person inside President Donald Trump’s administration to be reached by special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. The developments are a sign that the investigation is intensifying, and details revealed Friday provide the clearest picture yet of coordination between Flynn and other Trump advisers in their contact with Russian officials to influence international policy.

According to an FBI statement, Flynn communicated with then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak after being asked by a senior Trump transition official to find out how foreign governments stood on a coming UN Security Council resolution about Israel. The prosecutors did not name any transition officials.

Sources familiar with the matter told CNN that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is the senior official referred to in the statement of offense.

An attorney for Kushner, now a White House senior adviser, did not comment.

The White House said late Friday morning that “nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.

“The conclusion of this phase of the special counsel’s work demonstrates again that the special counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion,” Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer, said in a statement.

In court Friday morning, Flynn’s only comments were to answer yes and no to questions from the judge. He told the judge he has not been coerced to plead guilty or been promised a specific sentence. Flynn faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, according to federal sentencing guidelines, though the judge Friday morning stressed he could impose a harsher or lighter sentence.

In a statement, Flynn said he acknowledged that his actions “were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right.

“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.

Flynn is the fourth person connected to Trump’s campaign to be charged as part of Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Russian government and members of Trump’s team, as well as potential obstruction of justice and financial crimes.

Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates were indicted last month; they pleaded not guilty. And Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty for making a false statement to the FBI over contacts with officials connected to the Russian government.

Flynn’s plea agreement stipulates that he’ll cooperate with federal, state or even local investigators in any way Mueller’s office might need, according to a document filed in court Friday. He could also be required to participate in covert law enforcement operations (such as wearing a wire) if asked, or share details of his past dealings with the Trump transition and administration.

The agreement adds that Mueller’s office won’t prosecute Flynn for additional crimes they outlined in his statement of offense Friday, such as his misreported foreign lobbying filings about his work for Turkey. If other prosecutors outside the special counsel’s office, such as US attorneys or state law enforcement, wanted to charge Flynn with alleged crimes, they still could, and he’s not protected if he lies to investigators again in the future or breaks the terms of his plea agreement.

Calls made during transition

In court, prosecutors detailed calls made by Flynn in late December 2016 to the senior Trump transition team at Mar-a-Lago to discuss conversations with Kislyak. There were multiple conversations with the transition while he was having conversations with Kisyak about Russia sanctions and the Russian response.

According to a statement of offense filed in court, Flynn conducted several calls with senior officials on the Trump transition team about his discussions with Kislyak related to US sanctions of Russia.

Flynn and Trump advisers discussed US sanctions three times. The first call discussed the potential impact on the “incoming administration’s foreign policy goals,” according to the court filing, from which details were partially read during Flynn’s plea hearing.

Flynn then called Kislyak to ask that Russia not respond too harshly to US sanctions, the statement of offense said. He told a Trump transition official about that call. Russia responded by choosing not to retaliate to the sanctions.

KT McFarland was a senior transition official at Mar-a-Lago who was described as discussing with Flynn what, if anything, to communicate to the Russian ambassador about US sanctions, according to sources familiar with the matter. McFarland was not named in the document, but sources confirmed she was one of the transition officials described in the court filings.

An attorney for McFarland declined comment.

McFarland met with Mueller investigators recently to answer questions about Flynn, according to the sources.

According to the special counsel charges, McFarland and Flynn talked about the potential impact of the sanctions on the incoming Trump administration’s foreign policy and that the transition team did not want Russia to escalate the situation.

The bulk of the back-and-forth calls from Flynn to the Russian ambassador and to Trump advisers happened around December 29, while the advisers were at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

They “discussed that the members of the presidential transition team at Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation,” the filing said.

Flynn lied to investigators about these calls with the ambassador, according to his guilty plea and the criminal statement of offense.

The charging document states that Flynn made a false statement to the FBI when he stated that in December 2016 he did not ask Kislyak “to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia that same day; and Flynn did not recall the Russian ambassador subsequently telling him that Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of his request.”

The document also says that Flynn falsely said he did not ask Kislyak to delay the vote on a pending United Nations Security Council resolution.

Flynn’s other instance of lying to investigators involved what he told them about his conversations with foreign officials related to their planned UN Security Council votes on Israeli settlements.

A “very senior member” of Trump’s transition team, who sources familiar with the matter told CNN was Kushner, told Flynn on December 22 to contact officials from foreign governments about how they would vote and “to influence those governments to delay the vote or defeat the resolution.”

Flynn then asked Kislyak to vote against or delay the resolution, the statement of offense said.

‘This is a win for the White House’

White House allies initially tried to put a positive spin on the news.

One person familiar with the mood in the West Wing insisted top White House officials were breathing a sigh of relief.

“People in the building are very happy,” the source said. “This doesn’t lead back to Trump in any way, shape or form.” The source noted that Flynn is being charged for making false statements, but not for any improper actions during the campaign.

“This is a further indication that there’s nothing there,” the source said. “This is a win for the White House.”

A source with knowledge of the legal team’s thinking tells CNN the Flynn plea “is not going to be a problem” for the President, though it could be a problem for people who worked with Flynn. The source said legal exposure for others would depend on what they might have said to the special counsel.

Hillary Clinton, whom Trump defeated in the 2016 general election and was the focus of the “lock her up” chant first popularized by Flynn at the Republican National Convention, declined through a spokesman to comment on Friday’s developments.

Stunning downfall for Flynn

Flynn’s lawyers have previously criticized media reports about his connection to the Russia investigation as peddling “unfounded allegations, outrageous claims of treason, and vicious innuendo directed against him.” Flynn hasn’t spoken publicly since his ouster in February.

The charges mark yet another stunning downfall for Flynn, 58, a retired general who rose to the highest ranks of the Army over a three-decade career — only to see him fired from the military by the Obama administration before unexpectedly rising again on the heels of Trump’s election victory.

A key campaign surrogate and adviser during Trump’s presidential campaign, Flynn was tapped as Trump’s national security adviser in November 2016, a senior White House job that put him in a vital role for all of the administration’s national security and foreign policy decisions.

Though he wasn’t initially considered for the top job, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law Jared Kushner made it clear to the Trump transition team that they wanted him there, CNN has reported.
Flynn would hold the job less than a month, resigning from the post after he misled Pence and then-chief of staff Reince Priebus about his conversations with Kislyak in which they discussed US sanctions against Russia.

Flynn is also the spark of potential trouble for the President in Mueller’s probe, as the special counsel is investigating potential obstruction of justice in the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Comey testified before the Senate intelligence committee that Trump asked him to drop the Flynn probe during a February Oval Office meeting not long after Flynn resigned as national security adviser.

Talking about sanctions

Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, which amounted to the crux of his guilty plea Friday, were the main reason for his firing shortly after Trump took office. The calls were captured by routine US eavesdropping targeting the Russian diplomat, CNN has reported.

The Trump transition team acknowledged that Flynn and Kislyak spoke on the day in December 2016 that the Obama administration issued new sanctions against Russia and expelled 35 diplomats, but they insisted the conversation did not include sanctions — including denials that Pence and Priebus later repeated on national television.

Flynn resigned on February 13 after reports that he and Kislyak had spoken about sanctions and that the Justice Department had warned the White House that Flynn was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.

Details of how the DOJ warned the White House about Flynn’s conduct were revealed months later in stunning testimony from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who said that she “believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians” because of the misleading denials.

Warnings before Trump took office

Flynn’s legal issues stem from foreign payments he received after he started his own consulting firm.

Flynn founded the Flynn Intel Group after he retired from the military in 2014. The Obama White House pushed him out of his role as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the military’s intelligence arm. Flynn was fired over claims he was a poor manager, though he says he was ousted by Obama administration officials unwilling to listen to his warnings about the rise of ISIS and an increasingly aggressive Iran.

Before he was named national security adviser, the FBI began investigating Flynn for secretly working during the presidential campaign as an unregistered lobbyist for Turkey, an investigation he disclosed to the Trump transition team before Trump took office.

Flynn wasn’t the only Trump associate who faced scrutiny over foreign lobbying laws — Manafort also filed a retroactive registration earlier this year for work he previously did in Ukraine.

Federal investigators were probing whether Flynn was secretly paid by the Turkish government as part of its public campaign against Fethullah Gulen, a critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who lives in exile in Pennsylvania. Erdogan blames Gulen and his supporters for plotting the failed Turkish coup last summer.

Payments from Russian businesses

Flynn has also been scrutinized for his work with Russian businesses.

In his initial financial disclosure form filed in February with the Office of Government Ethics, Flynn left off payments of thousands of dollars from RT, the Russian government-funded television network and two other Russian companies. Flynn subsequently added the payments in an amended disclosure.

Among the payouts, Flynn received $33,000 of a $45,000 speaking fee for a 2015 speech at a Moscow event hosted by RT, where he sat at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Flynn’s presence at the gala celebrating RT’s 10th anniversary raised eyebrows among his critics. The US intelligence community said earlier this year that the Kremlin uses RT to push propaganda on American audiences, and that the English-language channel was involved in the effort to interfere in the election.

Trump said in May that he hadn’t known that Flynn took payments from Russia and Turkey.

Flynn’s son also faces scrutiny

Flynn’s son, Michael Flynn Jr., has also faced scrutiny from Mueller’s investigation, though he was not charged on Friday.

Flynn Jr. served as his father’s chief of staff and top aide at their consulting firm, the Flynn Intel Group. In that capacity, Flynn Jr. joined his father on overseas trips, such as Moscow in December 2015 when Flynn dined with Putin at the RT gala.

The younger Flynn has a penchant for spreading conspiracy theories on Twitter. He has smeared Trump’s opponents — ranging from Clinton to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio — as well as Muslims and other minorities. Most prominently, he peddled the debunked claim that a Washington pizzeria was a front for Democrats to sexually abuse children.

Flynn Jr. has remained defiant as the investigation has heated up. Days after Manafort and Gates were indicted, Flynn Jr. sent a message to his critics: “The disappointment on your faces when I don’t go to jail will be worth all your harassment.”

Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/

Categories CNN

US signals openness to Assad staying put

(CNN.com)The Trump government doubled down Thursday on prioritizing the struggle against ISIS over stopping the Syrian civil-war and getting cleared of its chief protagonist, President Bashar al Assad — an indication that has been quickly criticized by hawks on the Hill.

Signaling a potential shift in US policy on the war in Syria from the times of the Obama administration, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on a visit to Turkey the “longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”
And in regards to the Trump government’s choice to not push for Assad’s departure, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley was even more powerful in New York. “Our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out,” Haley advised cable reporters Thursday, based on AFP.
    “Do we believe he is an interference? Yes,” she stated. “Are we going to sit there and concentrate on getting him outside? No.”
    Nevertheless, a US official told CNN that Haley’s comments were misunderstood. The the state said the US ambassador had not been giving Assad a free move, and she called Assad a “war criminal” within an appearance Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City.
    The the state described to CNN the precedence of the government now will not be just about Assad, but also getting the better of ISIS, halting the spread of the sway in Iran, attempting to stop the Syrian civil-war and shielding US allies in the area.
    In the event the United States does definitively left the policy of demanding Assad’s departure — a place articulated by the Obama administration — it’d set its plan closer in line with Russia, which supports Assad, and at odds with friends in Europe and in Turkey, where Tillerson down-played clashes which are already stressing that coalition.
    The remarks drew significant criticism from Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Republicans who’ve long advocated for an increased US military presence in Syria against Assad and his Russian allies.
    “This overlooks the tragic reality that the Syrian people cannot decide the fate of Assad or the future of their country when they are being slaughtered by Assad’s barrel bombs,” Arizona’s McCain said in a declaration.
    Meanwhile, South Carolina’s Graham stated, “If the press reports are accurate and the Trump Administration is no longer focusing on removing Assad, I fear it will be the biggest mistake since President Obama failed to act after drawing a red line against Assad’s use of chemical weapons.”
    In Turkey, Tillerson’s fledgling diplomatic abilities were set to the check in his diplomatic mission that is most difficult since using off-ice. He satisfied with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the eve of an enormous drive against IS-IS’ Syrian strong hold of Raqqa for just two hours behind-closed-doors. Tillerson’s aim was to get Erdogan the Kurds — the Turks’ sworn foe — are essential companions in the endeavor to overcome the terror business.
    The top US diplomat avoided questions in the information conference about US assistance for the Kurdish militia YPG, which the United States considers the most powerful fighters to follow IS-IS, but mentioned the two nations discussed “alternatives.” His Turkish counter part indicated that US help for the YPG stays one of a few stumbling-blocks in America-Turkey relationships.
    “What we discussed today are options that are available to us,” Tillerson mentioned following an ending up in Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. “They’re hard choices. I’d like to be quite blunt. It’s not simple. They’ve been tough choices which must be manufactured.”
    Cavusoglu decried the US insistence on viewing Turkish Kurds as different from your YPG militia in Syria, which h-AS acquired assistance and arms from Washington at war with Turkey. He informed newsmen, “It is a sorrow for us that this sort of support has been extended (by the US to the YPG).”
    A senior State Department official advised CNN before the negotiations that Tillerson’s message to Erdogan would be the United States is committed to dealing in the offensive against Raqqa together with the Kurds.
    Tillerson was place to tell the Turks that “we are going to do what we have to do,” the the state stated. “It’s not a happy message and they aren’t going to like it, but this is what he has to tell them.” The the state continued that Tillerson also told them that “our priority is the long term relationship with the Turks — but at the moment, the emerging crisis requires us to use the folks who will fight.”
    Cavusoglu stated that US assistance for the Kurdish forces of the the YPG militia, which it considers terrorists, h-AS saddened hurt and Turkey attempts to reset the United States-Turkey relationship subsequent to the election of President Donald Trump.
    “We can fight Daesh together,” Mr. Cavusoglu mentioned, utilizing the Arabic phrase for is is. However he added that “it is not correct to fight against one terrorist organization while cooperating with another.”
    He said there was no variation involving the YPG militias operating with all the United States in Syria along with the PKK, a team that the United States has labeled a terrorist firm and which has launched terror strikes against Turkey. He failed to equate the group together with the YPG while Tillerson mentioned Turkey had endured assaults in the palms of PKK.
    Kurds are not the only supply of friction in the US connection with Turkey
    Key included in this is that the United States has yet to deliver the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, of orchestrating a coup try last summer, a resident of the united states whom Erdogan accuses.
    Turkey’s desire that Washington extradite Gulen, whom Turkey attributes for directing the unsuccessful coup of last year, loomed over Tillerson’s discussions. Gulen denies participation in the effort.
    Cavusoglu mentioned Turkey supplied considerable evidence to the United States of America and stated that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had vowed to “evaluate the documents meticulously.” He explained Turkey desires to see “concrete steps,” and asked for the United States to problem a provisional arrest warrant for Gulen while the extradition procedure moves ahead
    “We need to take mutual steps to put relations with the United States back on track,” he stated.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/30/politics/tillerson-haley-syria-assad-turkey/index.html

    Categories CNN

    Turkish lawmakers approve bill boosting Erdogan’s power

    (CNN)Turkish legislators authorized a questionable bundle of constitutional reforms that would hand sweeping powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inning accordance with state-run news firm Anadolu.

    After nearly 3 weeks of argument, the 18-article plan– called the “power expense”– was authorized by the 339 Parliament members early Saturday early morning, Anadolu reports.

      Opponents fear the reforms will provide excessive power to Erdogan.
      Since a tried coup in July, Erdogan has actually led an extreme crackdown on federal government critics and those with supposed ties to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the coup effort.
      Hundreds of military officers have actually been dismissed, approximately 11,000 instructors were suspended and numerous media companies were closed down.
      During a conference of regional leaders at the governmental palace in Ankara on Thursday, Erdogan stated 43,000 individuals have actually been apprehended and 95,000 fired from state posts in relation to the coup effort.

      Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/21/europe/turkey-parliament-constitution-change/index.html

      Turkey HoldsOut on Releasing American Pastor – Trending Stuff

      Turkey HoldsOut on Releasing American Pastor – Trending Stuff

      A Turkish delegation to Washington refused to commit to releasing an American pastor, as both sides sought a way out of an escalating feud, a U.S. official said.

      Turkey raised concerns about a state-run lender, Halkbank, that’s under investigation for its role in a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran and faces the prospect of a large fine by the U.S. Treasury, according to the official, who spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity. The lira sank about 3 percent on Thursday to a new record.

      The meetings came as Turkey seeks to stanch an economic meltdown amid fallout from U.S. sanctions imposed on its NATO ally over the continued detention of the pastor, Andrew Brunson, who was jailed on espionage and terrorism suspicions more than two years ago and recently released to house arrest. U.S. officials said they wouldn’t discuss relief for Halkbank, or one of its bankers currently in jail, until Brunson was freed, the official said.

      The Turkish delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal. After a 45-minute discussion at the State Department with Deputy Secretary John Sullivan, department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement that “the two discussed a range of bilateral matters, including Pastor Brunson.” She didn’t elaborate.

      The visiting delegation then went to the Treasury for further discussions, according to a person familiar with the plans who asked not to be identified because the meeting wasn’t formally announced. They were expected to arrive back in Turkey on Thursday, according to Turkish officials.

      Read More: Erdogan’s Way Out of Market Meltdown Full of U-Turns

      The sanctions target Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu, who “played leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson,” the Treasury Department said in a statement. While limited in their direct effect, the penalties added to the winds already buffeting investors and sent markets reeling.

      Turkey, which has accused Brunson of helping efforts behind the failed military coup in 2016, has retaliated with sanctions on two U.S. officials.

      Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses the U.S. of trying to meddle in its judicial procedures and rejects suspicions Ankara is holding on to Brunson as a bargaining chip to win the extradition of two Turks: Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based preacher it accuses of instigating the botched coup, and Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the convicted Halkbank executive.

      The U.S. isn’t considering handing over Gulen to Turkey, according to the official. In a dispute that began during the Obama administration, the U.S. has maintained that Turkey has failed to provide sufficient evidence against Gulen for a judge to extradite him.

      The diplomatic row has taken the lira’s losses this year to about 30 percent as shoppers confront soaring prices and companies struggle to service dollar and euro debts.

      While investors focus on the Turkey-U.S. talks in Washington for any signs of an easing of diplomatic tensions that added to the lira’s woes, the root of the economy’s ills runs deeper. With double-digit inflation and a current-account deficit seen at 6.4 percent of output this year, investors say the currency may continue to slide unless policy makers commit to tighter monetary and fiscal policy.

      (Updates with Turkish delegation’s return to Ankara in fifth paragraph.)

      Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/