Donald Trump has said there is “nothing to hide!” over claims of Russian interference, after one of his former advisers admitted lying to the FBI over conversations with Moscow’s ambassador to the US.
Mr Trump insisted there was “absolutely no collusion” between his campaign team and Russia in the 2016 election in the wake of ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn agreeing to cooperate with a special prosecutor investigating the claims.
The President said the retired three-star general had done nothing illegal during the transition in reaching out to Sergey Kislyak, but said he fired him because he lied to vice president Mike Pence and the FBI about doing so.
He tweeted: “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!”
Some analysts have speculated that the President’s latest tweet could spark claims he obstructed justice, as it appears Mr Trump has admitted for the first time that he knew Flynn lied to the FBI.
At the time of his dismissal, the White House acknowledged only that Flynn had lied to Mr Pence.
Former FBI director James Comey has testified that Mr Trump asked him to drop an investigation into Flynn in the wake of the latter being fired.
As part of his plea agreement, Flynn has agreed to co-operate with the probe into alleged Russian meddling led by Robert Mueller, potentially making him a key player in the long-running saga.
Mr Trump’s son-in-law and senior aide, Jared Kushner, has been named in US media as the “very senior” member of the President’s transition team who directed Flynn to reach out to Russia.
This was in an attempt to delay or defeat a UN resolution on Israeli settlements before Mr Trump took office, according to reports.
Court papers suggest senior Trump transition officials were fully aware of Flynn contacting Russian officials in the weeks before January’s inauguration.
Along with Mr Kushner, another of the officials has been named in US media as former deputy national security adviser KT McFarland.
The court documents set out the directions given to Flynn by a Trump transition official about how to interact with Russia regarding sanctions the Obama administration imposed for alleged Russian meddling in the election.
Flynn and the official reportedly spoke about “the potential impact of those sanctions on the incoming administration’s foreign policy goals” and that Flynn then called Mr Kislyak, and “requested that Russia not escalate the situation”.
ABC News reported Flynn would testify that Mr Trump ordered him to reach out to Moscow after last November’s presidential election, initially as a way to work together to fight Islamic State in Syria.
After a federal court appearance in Washington, Flynn said: “I recognise that the actions I acknowledged in court today 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. I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
The charge normally carries up to five years in prison but under the terms of a plea deal, Flynn faces a lighter sentence of only up to six months in jail, court filings show.