WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is skimming over the facts when it comes to former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea for lying in the Russia investigation.
In remarks Thursday at a meeting with governors-elect, Trump suggests the FBI never accused Flynn of lying in its probe into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. That’s not the case. Flynn will next week become the first White House official punished as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation.
A look at the claim:
TRUMP: “Well the FBI said Michael Flynn, a general and a great person, they said he didn’t lie. And Mueller said: ‘Well, maybe he did.’ And now they’re all having a big dispute, so I think it’s a great thing that the judge is looking into that situation. It’s an honor for a lot of terrific people.”
THE FACTS: That’s not what the FBI said. And Flynn and prosecutors agree he lied to the FBI.
The claim picked up steam after Republicans on the House intelligence committee issued a report this year that said Comey, in a private briefing, said that the agents who interviewed Flynn “discerned no physical indications of deception” and saw “nothing that indicated to them that he knew he was lying to them.” But Comey described that description as a “garble” in a private interview with House lawmakers last week.
“What I recall telling the House Intelligence Committee is that the agents observed none of the common indicia of lying — physical manifestations, changes in tone, changes in pace — that would indicate the person I’m interviewing knows they’re telling me stuff that ain’t true,” Comey said. “They didn’t see that here. It was a natural conversation, answered fully their questions, didn’t avoid. That notwithstanding, they concluded he was lying.”
It is true that U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan has asked for documents related to quotations included in a sentencing memo from Flynn’s defense team. One of the documents is a memo authored by former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe summarizing his involvement in Flynn’s Jan. 24, 2017, FBI interview. The other document contains notes from an August 2017 FBI interview detailing agents’ interactions with Flynn the day of his interview.
Flynn’s attorneys had pulled from those documents in pointing out that unlike other defendants in the Russia investigation, Flynn wasn’t warned in advance that it was a crime to lie to the FBI. Flynn’s attorneys also noted that FBI officials involved in the interview have since been investigated for misconduct.
FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok, who interviewed Flynn, was fired a year later over anti-Trump text messages. McCabe, who had arranged the interview but wasn’t present for it, was fired for what the Justice Department called a lack of candor involving a media leak.
It’s not clear from Sullivan’s order whether he considers there to be a dispute to resolve or if he just wants to see the underlying documents as he decides Flynn’s sentence. Both prosecutors and Flynn’s attorneys have said he doesn’t deserve to go to prison.