The former national security adviser appeared in federal court to admit to a single charge of lying to FBI investigators just as the White House was focused on the passage of its landmark tax bill.
No one in the White House was prepared.
Friday began with the now-routine flurry of tweets from President Donald Trump — two about the acquittal of an undocumented immigrant accused of a 2015 killing in San Francisco, one about his tax legislation. White House staffers, fresh from their inhouse holiday party Thursday, prepared to welcome the press to the annual media party later in the afternoon.
There were no leaks in advance that former national security adviser Michael Flynn planned to plead guilty to a single count of lying to FBI agents — lies he told in January, after Trump took office, about his contacts with Russia’s then-ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, during the presidential transition last December. Flynn has promised to cooperate fully with the Mueller investigation and, according to prosecutors, says his Russia outreach was ordered by two other top members of Trump’s transition team, claims that bring the probe deeper than ever into the Trump White House.
Trump told associates as recently as last weekend — while he was visiting his Mar-a-Lago resort for Thanksgiving — that he isn’t worried about the outcome of Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which has grown to encompass his response to the investigation.
But there is a growing sense of dread among Trump’s closest confidants that the noose is tightening — if not around the president, then around his closest advisers and family members.
Flynn is the second Trump associate known to have pleaded guilty, after campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts. His plea deal, struck in October after months of silent cooperation, was unsealed the same day multiple charges were unsealed against Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and another campaign official, Rick Gates, both of whom have pleaded not guilty to money laundering and other charges.
One person close to the White House described the mood this way: “What they’re freaked out about is that there are no leaks. Papadopoulos didn’t leak. Flynn didn’t leak. They feel like they can’t trust anyone. Their own counsel didn’t know.”