Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect ABC News’ correction of their reporting, cited in this article, that Flynn was prepared to testify that Trump ordered him to contact Russia during the campaign. It was in fact shortly after the election.
Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn plead guilty to lying to the FBI Friday about his interactions with Russian officials as part of a deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller to secure Flynn’s cooperation in Mueller’s broader probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Trump’s lawyer Ty Cobb said in a statement that “nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.” Which is literally true. But, the White House should be very nervous all the same.
Flynn’s cooperation could have significant ramifications for Trump. ABC’s Brian Ross reported that Flynn is prepared to testify that Donald Trump directed him to contact the Russians shortly after the election about a coordinated strategy to fight ISIS in Syria.
Flynn’s testimony for the first time implicates Donald Trump directly in contacts with Russia, but the timing and nature of them suggest nothing particularly inappropriate.
However, if Flynn implicates Trump in more nefarious things, even things not directly related to collusion in Russia’s election meddling, it would put Trump’s efforts to pressure then FBI Director Jim Comey to drop his investigation of Flynn in a troubling light and bolster a case for obstruction of justice.
Under the deal, Flynn will pay a $250,000 fine and could face five years in prison, but will avoid jail time for now. Flynn also negotiated an agreement that his son Michael Flynn, Jr. will not face charges.
Flynn is now the fourth Trump campaign official to be charged with felonies by Mueller and he is unlikely to be the last. But, none of the charges so far directly relate to the core allegation of “collusion” in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. At this stage in the investigation, the charges Mueller is bringing are more about securing cooperation as Mueller seeks to understand exactly what went on between Trump’s team and Russia during the campaign.
Mueller’s willingness to cut a deal with Flynn underscores the value of his cooperation in this effort. But, it also suggests that Mueller may have bigger fish to fry, and more shoes to drop.