As news broke that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, the attention shifted to President Trump and how he would react. So far, he's hardly reacted at all: When journalists outside the White House shouted questions about Flynn, Trump gave a thumbs-up, according to CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller. Then, the White House cancelled a photo op with the Libyan prime minister. Shortly thereafter, the White House released a statement referring to Flynn as a "former Obama administration official."
Update: On Saturday morning, Trump broke his silence on Flynn, telling reporters he was not concerned about what Flynn might tell Mueller. "What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion," he said. Later, he tweeted: "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"
Earlier: In his first tweet after the Flynn news broke, Trump addressed rumors that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will soon resign, writing in a tweet that those reports are "fake news" and adding, "I call the shots."
The timing of Flynn's guilty plea timing will make things extremely awkward for Trump: Flynn's hearing came just hours before the White House holiday press party, an event where journalists mingle with officials and the president (off the record). Trump, known for his deep disdain for the mainstream media, will likely be less than enthusiastic about the party in light of Flynn's guilty plea.
Flynn was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Obama for around eighteen months, but resigned (or perhaps was fired) in 2014 amid concerns over his management style and personality at the agency. Flynn later joined Trump's presidential campaign, and Trump tapped him to serve as national security adviser after winning the election, despite Obama reportedly warning him not to do so. Flynn was fired from the Trump White House after less than a month on the job.
Here's White House attorney Ty Cobb's statement on Flynn's guilty plea:
Today, Michael Flynn, a former National Security Advisor at the White House for 25 days during the Trump Administration, and a former Obama administration official, entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI.
The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in [Flynn's] resignation in February of this year. 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.
This development in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe was the biggest indication yet that Flynn has been cooperating with investigators. Mueller's began his investigation in May, and it already yielded indictments of former Trump aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates in October, as well as a guilty plea from former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos, who admitted to lying about his communications with foreign officials close to the Russian government.
But Flynn being charged with lying to the FBI represents the biggest threat to Trump yet in the investigation thus far. He's undoubtedly the biggest get for Mueller, because unlike Manafort, he actually worked in the White House, having been appointed by the president himself as national security adviser. Flynn's presence in the West Wing necessarily means that Mueller's investigation has now touched members of Trump's innermost circle, and may continue to do so.
Although his resignation in February came before he had finished a full month on the job, Flynn nevertheless appears to have had valuable information to offer Mueller. In his plea bargain, Flynn is only charged with lying to the FBI about his conversations with a Russian ambassador. That's hardly the whole of what he might have been charged with, a fact that will likely worry members of the Trump administration.
For example, a Wall Street Journal investigation found that Flynn was also facing possible repercussions over his role in the attempted extralegal extradition of a Turkish cleric named Fethullah Gulen. According to the Wall Street Journal report, both Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were allegedly plotting to "forcibly remove" Gulen from his home in Pennsylvania. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames Gulen for fomenting the unrest and leading a failed 2016 coup effort. For his part, Gulen teaches a "tolerant Islam which emphasizes altruism, modesty, hard work and education" according to the BBC. The Flynns were reportedly expecting to be paid $15 million for their efforts.
Attempted kidnapping of an international resident living on American soil at the behest of a foreign power is a pretty substantial crime. The fact that Flynn is no longer facing that charge has led many to believe he has not only turned on his former employer in the West Wing, but has information on his higher-ups Mueller deems highly valuable.
According to ABC's Brian Ross, a source has told him that Flynn is ready to testify against Trump, as well as members of Trump's family and administration. Ross also said his source told him Flynn is prepared to testify that Trump directed him to "make contact" with the Russians in the midst of the 2016 campaign.
Where the investigation goes from here is anybody's guess, but it's showing no signs of letting up: Shortly after the Flynn news broke, NBC News reported that it was Jared Kushner, Trump's son and top adviser, who "directed" Flynn to make overtures to the Russians.
Seth Millstein contributed to this report.