President Donald Trump defended some of the actions of his former national security adviser Michael Flynn as “lawful” on Saturday, a day after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his talks with the Russian ambassador.
“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies,” Trump tweeted. “It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”
Flynn’s Friday plea includes an admission that he lied to FBI agents about conversations with then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak about U.S. sanctions against Russia and about a pending United Nation Security Council vote targeting Israeli settlements.
Later Saturday evening, Trump doubled down on his defense of Flynn, saying that his former national security adviser’s life was “ruined,” but that former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton escaped any punishment for “lies.”
“So General Flynn lies to the FBI and his life is destroyed, while Crooked Hillary Clinton, on that now famous FBI holiday “interrogation” with no swearing in and no recording, lies many times…and nothing happens to her?,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Rigged system, or just a double standard?”
Former FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress there was no proof that Clinton lied during her interview with agents about her use of a private email server for government business.
In addition to slamming Clinton, Trump appeared to repeat previous attacks on the Justice Department by suggesting the system could be “rigged” or that the department is failing in its duty by not investigating Clinton further.
The Washington Post reported Saturday evening that John Dowd, one of the president’s lawyers, drafted the tweet in which Trump said he had to fire Flynn for lying to the FBI, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the message. Numerous legal experts attempted to parse the tweet, with many indicating it could place the president in legal jeopardy.
Walter Shaub, the former Director of the Office of Government Ethics, said on CNN that if the tweet was not an example of obstruction of justice, it was at the very least “obstruction adjacent.”
Lawfare Executive Editor Susan Hennessey said the was “a pretty substantial confession to essential knowledge elements of an obstruction of justice charge.”
“It’s hard to see how Trump’s tweet could fit into a legal strategy, and by sending it through Trump’s account, Trump adopted the tweet as his own,”Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and candidate for Illinois Attorney General, wrote on Twitter. “No good reason for Dowd not to put out the statement in his own name.”
Earlier in the day, the president told reporters outside the White House that there was “no collusion” between his campaign and the Russian government, which is the subject of a special counsel investigation.
The president’s comments that Flynn’s actions were lawful may relate to the retired lieutenant general being under scrutiny by some lawmakers for potential violations of the Logan Act, an obscure law that restricts unauthorized U.S. citizens from negotiating with a foreign power.
Prosecutors said in court on Friday that Flynn had been in touch with a “very senior official” inside the president’s transition team before he reached out to Kislyak. Multiple news organizations have since reported that the official in question is Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner.
“What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion,” Trump told reporters before departing the White House for fundraisers in New York. “There’s been absolutely no collusion, so we’re very happy.” Trump also praised Senate passage of the GOP’s tax code rewrite, saying, “Frankly last night was one of the big nights.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller is probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, including potential collusion between the president’s campaign and Moscow. The president has repeatedly stressed his belief that there was no collusion and has slammed the investigation as a “witch hunt.”
Flynn said in a statement that he is now cooperating with Mueller’s probe, a decision Flynn said was “in the best interests of my family and of our country.”
The White House was completely caught off guard by the Flynn news Friday.
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