Special counsel Robert Mueller's team on Friday slammed a suggestion by Michael Flynn's lawyers that President Donald Trump's former national security adviser lied to the FBI not even a month into his tenure because he was caught off guard when two agents approached him.
However, Mueller's office said it would not change its recommendation that Flynn receive no jail time, given that he has accepted responsibility for his actions and cooperated with the special counsel.
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Mueller on Friday also released memos written by the FBI agents, and emphasized that when Flynn lied to them on January 24, 2017, about the substance of his policy conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, he had already lied to several members of Trump's team and was "committed to his false story" that he and Kislyak did not discuss sanctions.
The FBI memos make clear that top Justice Department and bureau officials knew that Flynn's public story about his calls with Kislyak differed from what he actually said to the ambassador on the phone during the presidential transition -- and the agents who spoke with him at the White House about it were prepared to confront him.
That differs from President Donald Trump's recent assertions that "the FBI said he didn't lie" and that the agency was "embarrassed by the way he was treated."
In the first memo released Friday, dated the same day as Flynn's conversation with agents, then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe describes how he and then-Director James Comey wanted to hear from Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak. Flynn spoke on the phone with McCabe, McCabe's memo said.
"Flynn then explained that he had been trying to 'build relationships' with the Russians, and that he had calls in which he 'exchanged condolences,'" McCabe wrote. "He then stated that I probably knew what was said," the memo continues, before a half line of text in the memo is redacted.
"I reiterated that in light of everything that has been said about these contacts, the important thing now was for us to hear directly from him what he said and how he felt about the conversations."
It's widely believed that at that time, the FBI was aware of the conversations Flynn had with Kislyak because the intelligence community had listened in on the foreign diplomat's calls. On the calls, Flynn discussed Russian sanctions and a UN Security Council vote with Kislyak.
McCabe recounts in his memo that he suggested Flynn could involve the White House counsel's office in their meeting, but that would also cause him to bring the Justice Department into the loop. "He stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants," McCabe wrote.
Flynn did not call a personal attorney to participate, either.
That same day, Comey informed the then-head of the Justice Department, Sally Yates, that the Flynn interview was happening. "She was not happy," another FBI memo said. Shortly after the interview took place, the Justice Department briefed White House officials about the reality of the Flynn-Kislyak calls.
Interview at the White House
McCabe and Comey sent two agents to visit Flynn that day in the White House, just before 2:30 p.m., McCabe notes. One of those agents, the now-former agent Peter Strzok, filled in details of how the meeting went in a second FBI memo released Friday. (The Mueller team notes that Strzok's recollections come from an interview he did in July 2017 "in relation to other matters, not as part of the investigation" of Flynn or into Strzok.)
Once Strzok and another FBI agent got to the White House, they walked with Flynn past the President, who earlier that day had tweeted about hanging in the White House a photograph of a packed Capitol building steps and National Mall during the inauguration.
"President Trump and some movers who were discussing where to place some art walked between Strzok and [the unnamed FBI agent], but nobody paid attention to the agents," the memo said. Strzok, now a frequent foil to the President, wasn't introduced to the President at this time, the memo notes.
Once they sat down to talk, Strzok said he and the other agent "had the impression at the time that Flynn was not lying or did not think he was lying."
Flynn was described as not giving "any indicators of deception. He did not parse his words or hesitate in any of his answers. He only hedged once," Strzok is described as saying.
Overall, Strzok thought Flynn was "bright, but not profoundly sophisticated."
Flynn was relaxed, and even in a good mood.
"Flynn was so talkative, and had so much time for them, that Strzok wondered if the National Security Adviser did not have more important things to do than have such a relaxed, non-pertinent discussion with them," the memo recounting Strzok's recollections said.
In the FBI memo, it does not say what Flynn said about the Kislyak calls or how the FBI agents reacted to him in the moment, however the memo has several redactions.
Flynn later admitted in his federal court proceedings that he had lied during the interview. He will be sentenced next week.