WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's personal lawyer took responsibility Sunday for a tweet that Trump sent the previous day, in which the president said for the first time that he knew his former security adviser, Michael Flynn, had lied to the FBI before he fired Flynn in February.
The tweet caused an uproar in Washington because it implied Trump knew Flynn had committed a felony — lying to the FBI — when he told then-FBI director James Comey to go easy on Flynn the day after the firing.
Interfering in the FBI's investigation could be construed as obstructing justice, potentially creating legal jeopardy for Trump. Within a few hours, Trump's personal lawyer, John Dowd, stepped in to say that he wrote the tweet, not the president.
Dowd told NBC News that he drafted the tweet and then sent it to White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino to publish. When asked for the original email he sent to Scavino, Dowd said he dictated it orally.
I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!
"I'm out of the tweeting business," Dowd said with a chuckle. "I did not mean to break news."
Trump, however, issued 10 tweets in 24 hours related to the Russia investigation, the FBI, and how federal investigators should really be looking into Hillary Clinton.
He also denied that he asked Comey to back off the investigation, though Comey has testified to that effect under oath before Congress.
"I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn," he tweeted on Sunday morning. "Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!"
National security adviser General Michael Flynn delivers a statement daily briefing at the White House in Washington U.S., February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn arrives at the Trump Tower for meetings with US President-elect Donald Trump, in New York on November 17, 2016.
(EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Retired United States Army lieutenant general Michael T. Flynn introduces Republican Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump before he delivered a speech at The Union League of Philadelphia on September 7, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Trump spoke about his plans to build up the military if elected. Recent national polls show the presidential race is tightening with two months until the election.
(Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, at podium, and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attend a campaign event with veterans at the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Ave., NW, where Trump stated he believes President Obama was born in the United States, September 16, 2016.
(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (L) yields the briefing room podium to National Security Adviser Michael Flynn February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Flynn said the White House is 'officially putting Iran on notice' for a recent missile test and support for Houthi rebels in Yemen. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, prepares to testify at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled 'Current and Future Worldwide Threats,' featuring testimony by he and James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence.
(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C) arrives prior to a joint news conference between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn boards Air Force One at West Palm Beach International airport in West Palm Beach, Florida U.S., February 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
National security adviser General Michael Flynn arrives to deliver a statement during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington U.S., February 1, 2017. Picture taken February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (L) arrives at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 10: (AFP OUT) White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (R) walks down the West Wing Colonnade following a bilateral meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe February 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump and Abe are expected to discuss many issues, including trade and security ties and will hold a joint press confrence later in the day. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 02: (L-R) SCAD Dramatic writing professor Chris Auer, Producer Sandra Leviton, Executive producer and writer Michael Flynn, Tv literary agent Jeff Greenberg and Literary manager and producer Kaila York speak on stage during the 'Inside the Writers Room' event on Day One of aTVfest 2017 presented by SCAD on February 2, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SCAD)
Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (ret.), National Security Advisor Designate speaks during a conference on the transition of the US Presidency from Barack Obama to Donald Trump at the US Institute Of Peace in Washington DC, January 10, 2017. / AFP / CHRIS KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, U.S. national security advisor, attends a swearing in ceremony of White House senior staff in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. Trump today mocked protesters who gathered for large demonstrations across the U.S. and the world on Saturday to signal discontent with his leadership, but later offered a more conciliatory tone, saying he recognized such marches as a hallmark of our democracy. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Michael Flynn walks out after a morning worship service on Inauguration day at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, DC on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) (R), talks with National Security Advisor Michael Flynn inside of the inaugural parade reviewing stand in front of the White House on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Donald Trump was sworn in as the nation's 45th president today. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, White House national security adviser-designate, center, stands in an elevator at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Donald Trump is slated to meet with AT&T Inc.'s top executives on Thursday to discuss the company's proposed $85.4 billion bid for Time Warner Inc., according to people familiar with the matter. The president-elect has said he opposes the deal. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Donald Trump's National Security Adviser Gen. Michael T. Flynn (R) arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (ret.) and National Security Advisor Designate and Ambassador Susan Rice, National Security Advisor during a ceremonial passing of authority while participating in a conference on the transition of the US Presidency from Barack Obama to Donald Trump at the US Institute Of Peace in Washington DC, January 10, 2017. / AFP / CHRIS KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Dowd said that Trump's other tweet saying Flynn was fired in part for lying to the FBI was a reference to a statement made by acting Attorney General Sally Yates when she came to the White House on Jan. 26. At that time, she told White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had "given the agents the same story he gave the Vice President."
"For some reason, the [Justice] Department didn't want to make an accusation of lying," Dowd said. "The agents thought Flynn was confused."
McGahn then passed that information on to the president, Dowd said.
"All the president knew was that the department was not accusing him of lying," Dowd said.
Dowd added: "The point of that tweet was entirely correct. It's just very sad. I don't know why the guy lied. He didn't need to."
According to court documents, Flynn twice lied to the FBI about his interactions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn falsely said he had not asked Kislyak "to refrain from escalating the situation" in response to sanctions that the U.S. had imposed against Russia on Dec. 29, three weeks before the Trump administration came into office.
Court documents also said that Flynn had lied when he claimed that he had not asked Kislylak “to delay a vote on or defeat” a U.N. Security Council resolution on Dec. 22.
Nope. Not letting this go. The FBI’s reputation is not in “tatters”. It’s composed of the same dedicated men and women who have always worked there and who do a great, apolitical job. You’ll find integrity and honesty at FBI headquarters and not at 1600 Penn Ave right now
On both occasions, Flynn sought counsel with senior Trump transition officials before speaking to the Russian diplomat Kislyak. According to three people familiar with the matter, one of the people on the transition team Flynn spoke with is Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Two people familiar with the matter said that another transition official referred to in the court documents is K.T. McFarland, who served as deputy national security adviser for five months and is now the nominee to become the next U.S. ambassador to Singapore.
According to the charges, Flynn lied to the FBI two days after he was sworn in as Trump’s national security adviser.
Since the Mueller probe began in May, Flynn is the first senior White House official to be charged in the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. He is also the first official to agree to fully cooperate with the inquiry.
A source close to the Trump administration told NBC News that the White House was “blindsided” by the announcement Friday Flynn’s guilty plea.