WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump insisted yesterday that there was "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia, after his former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about his contacts with Russia.
"Absolutely no collusion," Mr Trump said, a day after Flynn admitted to lying to the FBI about contacts he had with Russia's then ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He also said he was "not worried" by what the 58-year-old retired army general would tell investigators probing Russia's meddling into the presidential election and potential collusion by Trump aides.
In a plea bargain deal, Flynn last Friday admitted in a Washington court to lying to FBI investigators about his conversations with Mr Kislyak last December, just weeks before Mr Trump took office.
Prosecutors said the two men discussed US sanctions against Russia and Flynn also asked Mr Kislyak to help delay a United Nations vote seen as damaging to Israel. On both occasions, he appeared to be undermining the policies of outgoing President Barack Obama.
They also said a "very senior member" of Mr Trump's transition team had told Flynn to contact Russia and other foreign governments to try to influence them ahead of the UN vote. US media reports said the "very senior" official was Mr Jared Kushner, a key member of Mr Trump's transition team and now the President's senior adviser.
Mr Kushner's lawyer Abbe Lowell did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
NO ONE ELSE IMPLICATED
Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr Flynn.
MR TY COBB, a White House attorney, on whether this implicates the US President.
There was nothing in the court hearing that pointed to any evidence against Mr Trump, and the White House said Flynn's guilty plea implicated him alone.
"Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr Flynn," said Mr Ty Cobb, a White House attorney.
ABC News reported that Flynn would testify that Mr Trump ordered him to reach out to Moscow after last November's election.
Flynn was forced to resign after 24 days on the job after he was found to have misled Vice-President Mike Pence about his discussions with Mr Kislyak.
Prosecutors said Flynn and Mr Kislyak last December discussed economic sanctions that Mr Obama's administration had just imposed on Moscow for allegedly interfering in the election.
They said Flynn asked Mr Kislyak to refrain from escalating a diplomatic dispute with Washington over the sanctions, and later falsely told FBI officials that he did not make that request, court documents showed.
Prosecutors said Flynn had earlier consulted with a senior member of Mr Trump's presidential transition team about what to communicate to the Russian ambassador.
"Flynn called the Russian ambassador and requested that Russia not escalate the situation and only respond to the US sanctions in a reciprocal manner," the prosecutors said in court documents, adding that Flynn then called the Trump official again to recount the conversation with Mr Kislyak.
They did not name the senior official in the Trump team but US media reports identified former adviser K.T. McFarland as the person.
Moscow has denied what US intelligence agencies say was meddling in the election campaign. Mr Trump has called special counsel Robert Mueller's probe a witch hunt.
In May, the President fired FBI director James Comey, who has said he believed Mr Trump had asked him to drop the FBI's probe into Flynn. Mr Comey last Friday tweeted a cryptic message about justice. "But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, 'Amos 5:24'," he wrote, quoting the Biblical book of Amos.
Paul Manafort, who ran Mr Trump's presidential campaign, was charged in October with conspiring to launder money, conspiracy against the US and failing to register as a foreign agent of Ukraine's former pro-Russian government. He later pleaded not guilty.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE