Michael Flynn, the former US national security adviser, has pleaded guilty to making false statements in relation to his conversation with the Russian ambassador before US President Donald Trump took office.
According to the Associated Press, Flynn admitted in his plea on Friday that Trump a senior transition official of the Trump campaign had directed his communication with the Russians.
Trump's lawyer, Ty Cobb, said in a statement that "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 way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion," Cobb added.
On Saturday, Trump said there was "absolutely no collusion" between his presidential campaign and Russia.
"What has been show is no collusion, no collusion, there has been absolutely no collusion," Trump told reporters as he departed from the White House.
He later tweeted that that Flynn's actions during the transition "were lawful" and Flynn was fired "because he lied to the vice president and to the FBI".
Flynn, a one-time loyal supporter and aide to Trump, was forced to resigned as national security adviser in February after reports surfaced that the Trump administration was warned by the Department of Justice that Flynn's communication with the Russians could leave the president in a compromised position.
It is illegal for private US citizens to conduct US diplomacy efforts.
According to the court documents, filed on Thursday, Flynn "willfully and knowingly" made "false, fictitious and fraudulent statements and representations" to the FBI in 2016.
When resigning as national security adviser in February, Flynn said he "inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding [his] phone calls with the Russian ambassador".
Flynn had initially told Trump advisers that he did not discuss sanctions with then-Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.
He later told White House officials that he may have discussed sanctions with Kislyak during the transition period.
Flynn is the most senior member of the Trump administration to have been indicted on charges related to the Russia probe, which is headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
He said in a statement after pleading guilty that he recognises his actions were "wrong".
"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," Flynn said.
In October, Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, and his business associate Rick Gates were charged on 12 counts, including conspiracy against the US, money laundering and other financial charges.
Another former Trump-aide, George Papadopoulos, also pleaded guilty to "making false statements to FBI agents" in October.
'This is big'
Al Jazeera's Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington, DC, said: "in terms of significance, this big".
There were reports last month that Flynn's lawyers had stopped cooperating with Trump's legal team, leaving many analysts to believe that the ex-national security adviser was in discussions with Mueller.
"What a plea of false statements means is that Flynn seems to be cooperating with the Special Counsel," Melanie Sloan, an attorney and executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, told Al Jazeera after the charges were announced.
"This plea also indicated that he was, in fact, colluding with the Russians," Sloan said.
"He was talking with the Russians before Trump got into office and asking them not react to the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration," she said, adding there is "much more to come".
What is the charge?
According to the charge documents, Flynn "willfully and knowingly" made "false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements" to the FBI. The incidents cited in the documents include:
- Falsely telling the FBI on or about December 29, 2016, that he did not ask the then-Russian ambassador to "refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia that same day". The documents also say that Flynn "did not recall the Russian ambassador subsequently telling him that Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of his request".
- Falsely telling the FBI on or about December 22, 2016, that he did not ask the then-Russian ambassador to "delay the vote on or defeat a pending United Nations Security Council Resolution; and that the Russian ambassador subsequently never described to Flynn Russia's response to his request".
- The resolution mentioned in the document condemned Israel's settlements in occupied Palestine. The resolution passed. Russian Deputy Ambassador to Israel Alexander Dubrovin later told Israeli radio that "Russia had reservations, primarily about the timing of the resolution, but the other countries did not agree with Russia’s position to continue the discussion."
- Flynn's plea agreement says he will fully cooperate with the investigation. Flynn must turn over "any and all evidence of crimes about which" he is aware.
- In exchange, the government will "bring to the court's attention at the time of sentencing the nature and extent" of Flynn's cooperation. The court is not required to lessen Flynn's sentencing due to his cooperation, though it is commonplace for courts to do so.
Who is Michael Flynn?
Michael Flynn is a retired US Army lieutenant general who served in the military for over three decades, leaving the service in 2014.
Flynn was a highly-decorated general who over oversaw top secret operations and helped shaped US strategy against armed groups.
Flynn also served as an adviser for the Trump campaign and later as the national security adviser.
The retired general rose to prominence in the 2016 campaign for being an ardent critic of the Obama administration's handling of counterterrorism operations.
After clashing with Obama-era officials about the danger of armed groups during his tenure as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency - the highest-ranking military intelligence position - in 2014, Flynn was fired and subsequently retired.
Flynn resigned as national security adviser less than a month after Trump took office after reports emerged that said that the Trump administration was warned by the Department of Justice that Flynn's communication with the Russians could leave the president in a compromised position.
After leaving the military, Flynn started a consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group Inc, with his son, Michael G Flynn. This is where his known work for foreign governments began.
His firm had been working for a Dutch company with ties to the Turkish government. While working for the Trump campaign, Flynn reportedly attended a meeting in 2016 with Turkish officials where a plan to abduct Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamic leader living in the US who Turkey accuses of plotting the failed coup, was discussed. Flynn's lawyer said the reports were "false".
US law requires that officials working in the interest of foreign governments register as foreign agents. Flynn did so in March 2017.
Source: Al Jazeera News