Michael Flynn pleads guilty to lying to FBI in Mueller probe

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty on Friday in federal court to a charge of making false statements to the FBI about his communications with Russia.

Flynn had contacted the Russians at the urging of two top transition officials, according to a court document. Three people familiar with the matter say one of the officials referenced in the document is Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, and two people familiar with the matter say the other is K.T. McFarland, who served as deputy national security adviser from January to May.

Flynn is the first senior White House official to be charged in the special counsel’s investigation into Moscow’s meddling into the 2016 presidential election, and the first to officially agree to cooperate.

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Michael Flynn appears in court on Dec. 1, 2017
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Michael Flynn appears in court on Dec. 1, 2017
Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn (L) arrives for a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, where he?s expected to plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn arrives for a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, where he?s expected to plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is escorted into a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, where he?s expected to plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017.
Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn arrives for a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, where he?s expected to plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 01: Michael Flynn (L), former national security advisor to President Donald Trump, arrives for his plea hearing at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse December 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged Flynn with one count of making a false statement to the FBI. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 01: Michael Flynn, former national security advisor to President Donald Trump, arrives for his plea hearing at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse December 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged Flynn with one count of making a false statement to the FBI. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A man protests outside as Gen. Michael Flynn, former national security adviser to US President Donald Trump, arrives at Federal Court December 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Donald Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn appeared in court Friday after being charged with lying over his Russian contacts, as part of the FBI's probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 01: Michael Flynn (L), former national security advisor to President Donald Trump, arrives for his plea hearing at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse December 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged Flynn with one count of making a false statement to the FBI. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Gen. Michael Flynn, former national security adviser to US President Donald Trump, arrives at Federal Court December 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Donald Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn appeared in court Friday after being charged with lying over his Russian contacts, as part of the FBI's probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Security stand outside after Gen. Michael Flynn, former national security adviser to US President Donald Trump, arrived at Federal Court December 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Donald Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn appeared in court Friday after being charged with lying over his Russian contacts, as part of the FBI's probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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A source close to the White House told NBC News that the Trump administration was "blindsided" by the news of Flynn's plea.

A two-page charging document filed Thursday lists two false statements Flynn made about his interactions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December 2016.

It says Flynn falsely claimed that he had not asked Kislyak on Dec. 29 "to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the U.S. had imposed against Russia," and that he didn't recall Kislyak telling him Russia had decided to moderate its response as a result of his request.

Prior to the Dec. 29 call with Kislyak, Flynn called a senior official with the presidential transition team who was with other senior members of the team at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to discuss what to say to the Russian ambassador regarding sanctions, according to the statement of offense. After the call with Kislyak, Flynn spoke with the unidentified member of the transition about the call, including discussion of sanctions.

Two people familiar with the matter told NBC News that K.T. McFarland is the senior official referenced in the statement of offense. McFarland served as deputy national security adviser from January to May, and is now the nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Singapore. Her nomination has not yet been voted on by the full Senate.

Court documents also say Flynn falsely claimed that he didn't ask Kislyak on Dec. 22 to "delay a vote on or defeat" a U.N. Security Council resolution, and then falsely denied that Kislyak had described Russia's response to the request. Before that call, a "very senior member" of the transition team directed Flynn to contact foreign officials, including those from Russia, to learn where they stood and influence the vote, according to the statement of offense.

The "very senior member" was Jared Kushner, three people familiar with the matter told NBC News.

Read the full plea agreement

Read the statement of offense

According to the special counsel's charge, Flynn made the false statements to the FBI on Jan. 24, two days after he was sworn in as national security adviser.

A source close to President Donald Trump said the developments regarding Flynn are "very, very, very bad."

The concern in the White House is that Flynn, who advised Trump throughout the campaign, will offer up information that could be harmful to the president.

The charge to which Flynn pleaded guilty carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. However, senior federal prosecutors not involved in the case say it is unlikely Flynn will ever spend a day in jail.

Related: Flynn's legal team cuts ties to Trump

The prosecutors said that since Flynn is not being charged with a violent crime, it is likely that government prosecutors would ask for probation and a fine at sentencing. Of course, the federal judge assigned to the case can ultimately impose the maximum sentence and is not bound by the prosecutors' wishes.

Two sources told NBC News that in the Dec. 22 conversation with Kislyak, Flynn asked Russia to either delay or defeat a pending U.N. resolution declaring Israel's settlements in Palestinian territory to be illegal.

The Obama White House and State Department were planning to abstain on the resolution, rather than vetoing it in the Security Council. The Israeli government furiously opposed that abstention, and so did President-elect Trump. No prior administration had failed to veto similar resolutions against Israel, despite opposing its settlements policy. Flynn, while not yet in office, was trying to get the Russians to do what Israel wanted, and thus undercut U.S. policy.

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K.T. McFarland -- former deputy national security adviser
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K.T. McFarland -- former deputy national security adviser
Kathleen Troia 'K.T.' McFarland, Deputy National Security Advisor Designate speaks during a conference on the transition of the US Presidency from Obama to Trump at the US Institute Of Peace at the US Institute Of Peace in Washington DC, January 10, 2017. / AFP / CHRIS KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Robert C. 'Bud' McFarlane (L), former US president Ronald Reagan's national security adviser from 1983 to 1985; incoming National Security adviser Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn (C); and KT McFarland (R), incoming deputy national security adviser, walk in the lobby at Trump Tower on December 5, 2016 in New York. / AFP / KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 20: K.T. McFarland, nominee to be ambassador to Singapore, attends her Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building on July 20, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Kathleen Troia 'K.T.' McFarland, Deputy National Security Advisor Designate speaks during a conference on the transition of the US Presidency from Obama to Trump at the US Institute Of Peace at the US Institute Of Peace in Washington DC, January 10, 2017. / AFP / CHRIS KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 9: From left, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser to President Trump, Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn watch as Attorney General Jeff Sessions is sworn in in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, Feb. 08, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
KT McFarland, President-elect Donald Trump's selection to be deputy national security adviser, steps off the elevator after meetings at Trump Tower on December 5, 2016 in New York. / AFP / KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 2: (L to R) KT McFarland and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrive at Trump Tower, December 2, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 13: Republican Senate candidate Kathleen (KT) McFarland takes questions from news media at the home of a friend in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn. McFarland broke with her whole family in 1992 when she accused her father of incest - an explosive charge her brother, Tom Troia, calls 'complete baloney.' Today, McFarland refused to discuss Troia's accusations. 'I have five wonderful children and a very loving and supportive husband,' she said. 'Other than that, I have nothing else to say.' (Photo by Linda Rosier/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 3: KT McFarland, President-elect Donald Trump's choice for deputy national security advisor, gives the thumbs up as she arrives at Trump Tower, January 3, 2017 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 1: National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, left, and K.T. McFarland, deputy national security adviser, center, listen as White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday, Feb. 01, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
KT McFarland walks by the elevator at Trump Tower on December 12, 2016 in New York. / AFP / KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
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In the Dec. 29 conversation, the sources said, Flynn reassured the Kremlin that the incoming administration, once in office, would reverse the Obama administration's sanctions punishing Russia for its election meddling. At the time, many news organizations reported that it was highly unusual for Putin to refrain from immediately retaliating by expelling American diplomats, in exchange for Obama's expulsion of Russians and the closing of two Russian diplomatic compounds in the U.S.

Related: Mueller probing pre-election Flynn meeting with pro-Russia congressman

The following day, Trump tweeted, "Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!"

Sally Yates, a former acting attorney general, told the Senate in May that she had warned White House lawyers in late January — before she was fired by Trump — that Flynn might be vulnerable to blackmail from the Russians.

Yates said she had told White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had not told the truth to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Kislyak on sanctions.

"To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians," Yates told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism.

Flynn said in a statement after pleading guilty that he did so "in the best interests of my family and of our country."

"It has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of 'treason' and other outrageous acts," he said.

"Such false accusations are contrary to everything I have ever done and stood for," Flynn said, noting his more than three decades of military service.

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