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In his first interview since being cleared of criminally conspiring in Russia’s 2016 election interference, President Donald Trump did not rule out pardoning members of his campaign who were convicted as a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.
Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, for example, pled guilty to intentionally making false statements to the FBI. But Trump claimed that the FBI actually found his campaign aide had not lied to agents.
"General Flynn, he was a man who had an incredible record in the military, you see what happened to him," Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. "The FBI said he wasn't lying, as I understand it, and if the Mueller group said he was lying, and you know what he has gone through, and what so many others have gone through."
In the waning days of his presidency, Barack Obama on Dec. 29, 2016, responded to Russia’s interference in the election by expelling 35 Russian diplomats and issuing new sanctions.
Following Obama’s move against Russia, Flynn spoke to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The special counsel established that Flynn asked Kislyak to "refrain from escalating the situation." Kislyak later said that Russia "had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of his request."
The next day, Putin announced that he would not retaliate against the Obama administration’s sanctions — a move that Trump praised later that day on Twitter:
"Great move on delay (by V. Putin)," Trump tweeted. "I always knew he was very smart!"
The following month, Flynn, who was at this point Trump’s national security adviser, spoke to the FBI agents. That’s when, according to the special counsel, Flynn falsely said he never discussed the Obama administration’s Russia sanctions with Kislyak.
But apparently Flynn didn’t appear flustered or nervous when he lied to the FBI. A partially redacted FBI memo — known as a 302 — states that the FBI agents said Flynn "did not give any indicators of deception." During Michael Flynn’s sentencing phase, the special counsel reiterated the agents’ impression.
This seems to be the basis for Trump’s claim. But Trump’s selective reading gives a false impression itself.
Lawyers for the special counsel’s office said Flynn’s seemingly guileless demeanor did not change the fact that he was lying — which Flynn himself admitted.
"Those misimpressions do not change the fact — as the defendant has admitted in sworn testimony to this District Court — that he was indeed lying, and knowingly made false statements to FBI agents in a national security investigation," they wrote.
In addition to lying about discussions he had with Kislyak about the Obama sanctions, Flynn also admitted to lying to FBI agents when he falsely told them he had not discussed having Russia help delay or defeat a vote on a United Nations Security Council resolution.
Trump said of his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, "The FBI said he wasn't lying."
Trump is taking FBI agents’ impressions completely out of context. The agents who interviewed Flynn about his contacts with the Russian ambassador before Trump became president said he did not appear to be lying — meaning, he didn’t seem nervous or exhibit the usual traits of deception.
That’s quite different from their factual conclusion: Flynn lied to them. Flynn pled guilty to intentionally making false statements and is awaiting sentencing.
We rate this False.
PolitiFact, "The Russia investigation and Donald Trump: a timeline from on-the-record sources (updated)," March 22, 2019
James Comey, interview with House lawmakers, Dec. 7, 2018
Email interview with Peter Carr, spokesman for the Special Counsel’s Office, March 28, 2019
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