Flynn could prove to be key asset in Mueller's US campaign probe, sources say

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawyers for former national security adviser Michael Flynn have halted communications with U.S. President Donald Trump's legal team, a potentially critical step in the probe into contacts between Trump's election campaign and Russia, sources familiar with the investigation said on Friday.

Flynn's lawyer, Robert Kelner, called John Dowd, Trump's private lawyer, on Wednesday to say the matter had reached a point where the two could no longer could discuss it, two people familiar with the call told Reuters on Friday.

The New York Times first reported that the two sets of lawyers had stopped communicating.

Flynn, a retired Army general, is a central figure in a federal investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into whether Trump aides colluded with alleged Russian efforts to boost his 2016 presidential campaign.

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Trump allies lash out at media after news of Mueller's Russia probe charges
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Trump allies lash out at media after news of Mueller's Russia probe charges
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.@donlemon you come across on tv as a dull witted arrogant partyboi. You lie constantly and no one who knows you thinks you r bright
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If this man's team executes warrants this weekend he should stripped of his authority by @realDonaldTrump. Then H… https://t.co/Jtpok6zNIM
Guess;Mueller and Media working hand in hand. Media to be tipped off. Mueller was FBI Director Who knew of Russian crimes before Uranium one
Left needs a dramatic change in the narrative!! Uranium One, Fusion GPS dossier, all out this week. This is a distraction! TICK TOCK....
When will @HillaryClinton be indicted?
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It was not clear whether Kelner made the call because he had negotiated a plea agreement with Mueller for Flynn to cooperate in the probe, or because Flynn had decided to engage with Mueller, said two other sources.

"No one should draw the conclusion that this means anything about General Flynn cooperating against the president," Jay Sekulow, another attorney for Trump, said on Thursday.

Dowd on Friday declined to comment on the matter, as did Peter Carr, Mueller's spokesman. Kelner also declined to comment. White House officials also have declined to comment.

The cooperation of Flynn, who was a top campaign adviser before becoming Trump's national security adviser in the White House, would be a major asset in Mueller's investigation.

In March, as he unsuccessfully sought immunity for his client to testify to House and Senate investigations into the issue, Kelner said, "Mr. Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he certainly wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit."

Two sources familiar with Mueller's investigation said Flynn may be able to provide insight into three major areas of inquiry.

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Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
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Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.

Michael Flynn

Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.

Sergey Kislyak

Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions -- communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.

R. James Woolsey

Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has cooperated with Mueller's investigation and worked with Michael Flynn and was present at a meeting where they discussed removing the controversial Turkish Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen from US soil. 

(Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Roger Stone

Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”

Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report read.

James Comey

Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.

Carter Page

Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.

J.D. Gordon

Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.

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These are: any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 campaign; money laundering and other possible financial crimes by Trump aides; and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey in May, as Comey was probing the Trump campaign's dealings with Russia.

Russia has denied interfering in the election. Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia by his campaign and has called the inquiry a witch hunt.

QUESTIONS FOR FLYNN

Two congressional officials involved in separate probes into the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia said one key area of investigation is whether Flynn or other advisers to Trump ever suggested U.S. economic sanctions on Russia could be lifted in exchange for favorable business deals.

Possible deals include a proposed commercial nuclear power project involving Russian firms that Flynn in recent years worked to promote to potential clients in the Middle East, sources familiar with the project told Reuters.

"At this point, there is no evidence of an effort to negotiate that kind of deal, but Flynn is near the top of the list of people who probably would know if there was any such effort," said one of the congressional officials, also speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Trump fired Flynn on Feb. 13, after disclosures that Flynn had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with then Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in December, the month before Trump took office, and later misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.

Flynn has acknowledged contacts with Kislyak dating back to 2013, but beyond saying they covered a variety of subjects has said nothing about the content of their conversations during Trump's campaign and after his election.

Flynn has been under scrutiny by the special counsel in a number of areas, sources familiar with the investigation have said.

Mueller has been investigating whether Flynn knowingly made false statements to the government about his foreign travels, income, and contacts on his security clearance form.

Flynn also has come under scrutiny for work on behalf of Russian clients, and over whether his work for a businessman with ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was lawful.

Mueller has been investigating Flynn's son, Michael Flynn, Jr.'s, involvement in some of his father's business dealings in Russia, Turkey, and elsewhere, the sources said, and that could provide a potent additional incentive for Flynn to cooperate.

Barry Coburn, a lawyer for Flynn's son, declined to comment.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne, Karen Freifeld, Will Dunham, John Walcott and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Will Dunham and John Walcott; Editing by Kieran Murray and Frances Kerry)

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