A day after his former national security adviser pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during his time in the White House, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to comment on the case — and in doing so, he appeared to offer a potentially shocking new revelation about what he himself knew and when.
For the first time, the president appeared to say he was aware that Flynn had lied to FBI agents, and not just to Vice President Mike Pence, at the time he left the administration in February. (Trump said Saturday that he had fired Flynn, but the White House at the time said Flynn resigned.)
"I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI," Trump tweeted while in New York City for fundraising events. "He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"
Trump is known to tweet provocatively and without facts — and without consulting his advisers. BuzzFeed News asked the White House for clarification and comment on Saturday's tweet. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred the request to Trump lawyer John Dowd.
Asked what date the president became aware Flynn had lied to the FBI, and whether the president had committed obstruction of justice in a subsequent meeting with then-FBI DIrector James Comey, Dowd simply responded, "No."
The wording of Saturday's tweet conflicts with Trump's initial announcements claiming that he ousted Flynn on the grounds that he was not truthful with Pence about his phone calls with the Russian ambassador, and adds to the already confusing timeline of Flynn's departure.
Trump has defended Flynn against charges of any wrongdoing in the past. The month after Flynn left the White House Trump tweeted that his former advisor "should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!"
Saturday's tweet also potentially colors the president's subsequent behavior in his meetings with Comey, the former FBI director who was fired by Trump in May. On Feb. 14, the day after Flynn's ousting, Trump met with Comey and suggested he stop the FBI investigation into Flynn and his links with Russia, according to testimony Comey delivered before Congress.
"I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go,” Comey said Trump told him. “I took it as a direction. It is the president of the United States, with me alone, saying, 'I hope this.' I took it as this is what he wants me to do. I didn't obey that.”
On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted to say he had never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn, calling it "another Comey lie." He has previously issued similar denials.
Still, Walter Shaub, the former head of the US Office of Government Ethics, and former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller immediately pounced on Saturday's tweet as evidence that Trump was trying to obstruct justice.
John Weaver, a former strategist for Republican Sen. John McCain, noted that Trump also pressed Comey to stop the Russia investigation.
Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about the content of his December 2016 conversations with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, as part of a plea deal in which he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors working for the Mueller investigation. Flynn spoke with Kislyak in December 2016 at the direction of Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, a source told BuzzFeed News. On Jan. 24, 2017, four days into his tenure as national security adviser, Flynn lied to the FBI about those interactions.
Two days later, on Jan. 26, then-acting attorney general Sally Yates told White House counsel Don McGahn that it appeared Flynn had lied to White House officials, including Pence, about his contact with the Russians. Yates later testified before Congress that she also told McGahn that Flynn had been interviewed by FBI agents two days before, but said she declined to tell him how that interview had gone when asked.
And on Sunday, Dowd, Trump's lawyer, told several news outlets that he wrote Trump's initial tweet about Flynn's firing himself, and had sent a draft to White House social media director Dan Scavino. Dowd said that Saturday's message was a reference to Yates' statements made during a visit to the White House in January when she said Flynn had "given the agents the same story he gave the Vice President."
"The FBI and Yates and the Department of Justice did not accuse Flynn of lying despite the fact that he lied to the agents, but nobody was accused of it, so the president didn't know about it," Dowd told ABC News.
Flynn resigned on Feb 13, two weeks after Yates initially approached the White House with concerns about his Russia ties. In his resignation letter, he said that he was quitting for having "inadvertently briefed the Vice President-Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador.” He did not expand on the identities of the "others" mentioned.
Three days later, Trump gave a press conference in which he declared that he had fired Flynn because of his denials to Pence about conversations with Kislyak.
"I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence. Very simple," Trump said.
Mike Flynn is a fine person, and I asked for his resignation. He respectfully gave it. He is a man who there was a certain amount of information given to Vice President Pence, who is with us today. And I was not happy with the way that information was given.
He didn't have to do that, because what he did wasn't wrong — what he did in terms of the information he saw. What was wrong was the way that other people, including yourselves in this room, were given that information, because that was classified information that was given illegally. That's the real problem.
On June 18, Comey appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to testify about Trump and the Russia investigation and said Trump fired him specifically because of the Russia investigation.
"I was fired because of the Russia investigation. ...to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted," Comey said. "That is a very big deal."
After Flynn appeared in court on Friday, Trump lawyer Ty Cobb told reporters that "nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn."
Earlier on Saturday, as he left Washington for New York City, President Trump said he was not concerned what Flynn might tell Mueller as part of his deal. "What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion," he said. When asked if he stood by Flynn, the president responded, "We'll see what happens.
Trump returned to Twitter Saturday night, questioning why Flynn faced charges while former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton had not, and then again Sunday morning when he tweeted a broadside against the FBI.
This story was updated with comments from Sarah Huckabee Sanders and John Dowd.
This story was updated with Donald Trump's tweet on Sunday denying he had asked James Comey to stop investigating Michael Flynn.
Amber Jamieson is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Amber Jamieson at email@example.com.
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