Update 10.00pm: Donald Trump has changed his story on why he fired Michael Flynn as his national security adviser.
The US president has now suggested he knew at the time of the sacking that Flynn had lied to the FBI as well as to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russians during the presidential transition.
That was a turnabout from his initial explanations that Flynn had to go because he had not been straight with Mr Pence about those contacts.
Lying to the FBI is a crime, and one that Flynn acknowledged yesterday in pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate with the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2017
It is unclear why Mr Trump would cite lying to the FBI as a reason for firing Flynn. Doing so suggests the president knew at the time that Flynn had done something that is against the law, and therefore the investigation could not be as frivolous as he has been portraying.
It is also unclear how he would know that, if information about Russian contacts had not reached him, as he has been implying in his own defence.
Flynn left the White House in February, only acknowledging that he had given an incomplete account to Mr Pence of his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
After Mr Trump forced Flynn out, he asked FBI Director James Comey to end the bureau’s probe into the matter, according to Mr Comey’s account. Mr Comey refused, and Mr Trump fired him too.
“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” – Winston Churchill
— James Comey (@Comey) November 30, 2017
Mr Trump has been publicly dismissive of Mr Comey and of special counsel Robert Mueller’s continuing investigation, and was often generous in his appraisal of Flynn, except to say his adviser could not stay in the job after misleading his vice president.
At the time, Mr Pence said Mr Trump was justified in firing Flynn because he had lied to him. Neither Mr Trump nor Mr Pence indicated concern then that the FBI had not been told the true story.
Mr Pence, who served as head of Mr Trump’s transition, has not publicly commented on Flynn’s plea.
White House officials did not respond to questions today about Mr Trump’s altered explanation as to why he fired Flynn.
Update 5.46pm: Donald Trump has said he had to fire Michael Flynn because he lied to the vice president and FBI, but “there was nothing to hide!”.
Mr Trump 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!”
Mr Trump’s tweet was delivered while he was in a motorcade in Manhattan heading to a fundraiser.
It is his most substantial reaction to the guilty plea by Flynn on Friday as part of the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Before leaving the White House for New York, Mr Trump told reporters there was “no collusion” between his campaign and the Russians.
Update 3.20pm: President Donald Trump is expressing no concern about the guilty plea by his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The president’s remarks this morning are his first public reaction to the plea deal, in which Flynn is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The president was at pains to stress there is “no collusion” between his campaign and the Russians.
Three times, Mr Trump told reporters it has been shown that there’s “no collusion”.
Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.
Mr Trump spoke as he left the White House to head to New York for fundraisers expected to raise millions of dollars.
Update 7.40am: Former Donald Trump senior aide Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about reaching out to the Russians on the president’s behalf.
The retired general, who vigorously campaigned at Mr Trump’s side and then served as his first national security adviser, said members of the president’s inner circle were intimately involved with – and at times directing – his contacts.
Flynn’s plea to a single felony count of false statements made him the first official of Mr Trump’s White House to be charged so far in the criminal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.
And his action could be an ominous sign for a White House shadowed for the past year by investigations.
The move could turn Flynn into a potentially key government cooperator as prosecutors examine whether Mr Trump’s campaign and Russia worked together to influence the 2016 presidential election in the president’s favour.
Friday’s developments do not resolve the paramount question of possible Trump-Russia coordination in the campaign, but they do show that Flynn lied to the FBI about multiple conversations last December with the Russian ambassador to the US.
Court papers make clear that senior officials for Mr Trump’s transition were fully aware of Flynn’s outreach to Russian officials in the weeks before the inauguration.
The officials were not named in court papers, but people familiar with the case identified two of them to AP as Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and former deputy national security adviser KT McFarland, now up for an ambassadorship.
That revelation moves the Russia investigation deeper into the White House.
And, given the direct involvement of the transition team in Flynn’s calls with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the plea also raises questions about the accuracy of repeated assertions by the administration that Flynn had misled Mike Pence and other officials when he denied having discussed sanctions with the diplomat.
Flynn, the longtime soldier, stood quietly during his plea hearing except to answer brief questions from the judge.
Flynn accepted responsibility for his actions in a written statement, though he said he had also been subjected to false accusations.
He said: “My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s Office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country.”
A former Defence Intelligence Agency chief, Flynn was a considerably more vocal surrogate for Mr Trump during the campaign, known for leading rally crowds in “lock her up” chants regarding Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Though prosecutors also had investigated Flynn for lobbying work on behalf of the Turkish government, the fact that he was permitted to plead guilty to just one count, and faces a guideline range of zero to 6 months in prison, suggest that prosecutors see him as a valuable tool in their investigation and are granting a degree of leniency in exchange for cooperation.
White House lawyer Ty Cobb sought to distance the plea from Mr Trump himself, saying: “Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Flynn.”
Nonetheless, the Russia investigation has persistently followed Mr Trump the first year of his presidency, angering the president and repeatedly distracting from his agenda.
Flynn’s plea came as Republican senators laboured to pass a far-reaching tax bill, which would be a significant victory for Mr Trump.
On Friday, the president ignored reporters’ shouted questions as he welcomed the Libyan prime minister to the White House, and aides cancelled media access to a later meeting between the two.
He did appear briefly at an afternoon White House holiday reception for the media, where he offered season’s greetings and departed without addressing the Mueller investigation.