While pleading guilty on Friday to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn admitted that a senior member of President Donald Trump's transition team "directed him to make contact with Russian officials in December 2016," the Associated Press reports.
"If, indeed, Flynn is willing to testify that Trump directed him to reach out to the Russians during the campaign that seems very close to the ballgame."
—Chris Hayes, MSNBC
The admission came as part of Flynn's plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller, which resulted in what many characterized as a relatively light charge. Flynn also admitted in a statement that he has agreed "to cooperate with the special counsel's office" in its Russia probe.
Flynn is the fourth and highest-ranking individual connected to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign to be charged with a crime as part of Mueller's investigation. Flynn initially told the FBI that he did not discuss U.S. sanctions against Russia, a statement that was later, based on transcripts of phone calls reviewed by the Justice Department, determined to be false.
Adding to the potential implications of Flynn's willingness to cooperate with Mueller's probe was an ABC News report on Friday indicating that Flynn is "prepared to testify that Donald Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians."
ABC characterized this development—which is based on the account of an anonymous Flynn confidant—as a "stunning turn," and commentators expressed their agreement on social media:
If, indeed, Flynn is willing to testify that Trump directed him to reach out to the Russians *during the campaign* that seems very close to the ballgame.— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) December 1, 2017
Following Flynn's guilty plea on Friday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) urged the House Judiciary Committee to begin investigating Trump for obstruction of justice.
"There is now more than enough evidence to form the basis of a congressional investigation into the President’s obstruction of justice—and it is long past time that the House Committee on the Judiciary engage on this matter," Nadler concluded.
Update: ABC has corrected its earlier report that, according to a Flynn confidant, Trump instructed Flynn to make contact with Russian officials during the presidential campaign. According to ABC's source, Trump directed Flynn to contact Russian officials as president-elect, not as a candidate.