Trump's Tweet About Flynn Lying To FBI Raises Questions
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
There is one President Trump tweet in particular about Michael Flynn that is raising a lot of questions. Here's the full post from his Twitter account on Saturday. It reads, quote, "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," exclamation point - end quote.
NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is here to help us decipher this tweet and give us an update on special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So that tweet I read has got people talking again about obstruction of justice. Explain why.
JOHNSON: Well, that tweet seemed to suggest that the president knew when Flynn was forced out of the White House in February that he lied to the FBI. But nobody else seemed to know that at that point in the year. Donald Trump's personal lawyer John Dowd stepped up over the weekend to take blame or responsibility for the tweet. He says he's the one who wrote it, not the president.
But it's raising a lot of questions about the extent of Trump's knowledge and his role that could pose some legal and political problems. Legally, did the president know that Mike Flynn lied when he asked Jim Comey to go easy on Mike Flynn? If so, that could factor into the obstruction of justice investigation. And politically, why did the president or the rest of the people in the White House keep Mike Flynn around so long if he misled the FBI just days after the inauguration?
KELLY: Well, whoever wrote that tweet, the president has not stopped talking about Michael Flynn. He was talking about him once again this morning right as he was boarding Marine One for a trip out to Utah. Let's hear that.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I feel badly for General Flynn. I feel very badly. He's led a very strong life, and I feel very badly.
KELLY: Meanwhile, Carrie, Flynn, we know, has agreed to cooperate with Mueller's investigation. Do we know how closely he is cooperating?
JOHNSON: We don't know yet. Legal experts are still teasing out what exactly that plea deal means. We do know that one of the unnamed advisers in those court documents was presidential son-in-law White House adviser Jared Kushner. Kushner says he's cooperating with investigators. In fact he sat down with the special counsel team last month to talk about Mike Flynn.
KELLY: What does that tell us about Kushner and his status then? I mean, if he is in some legal jeopardy himself possibly here, why would he agree to talk to the FBI and the special counsel?
JOHNSON: I've been puzzling over that. I've been talking with lawyers involved in some of these high-profile investigations, and they say that Kushner and his lawyer may have determined that the risk for charges on the Logan Act is very low. Remember; the Logan Act's a federal law that makes it a crime for unauthorized people to negotiate with foreign governments.
KELLY: But it's never been used to prosecute, right?
JOHNSON: It's a couple hundred years old, never used. So Kushner and his lawyer may have determined his main legal exposure here involves failure to disclose and the risk of false statements. And that approach, you might want to go in and explain yourself to the special counsel, look like you're part of the solution, not part of the problem.
KELLY: Meanwhile, one thing the White House has been at pains to stress is that these documents charging Flynn that were made public last week - they do not refer to President Trump personally. There is some new information about President Trump personally that you're reporting on today, though.
JOHNSON: Yeah. We're reporting that Diana Denman, who was a Texas delegate at last year's Republican convention working on behalf of Senator Ted Cruz, is doing some interviews with congressional investigators this week. They want to ask her how the Republican platform changed last year with respect to support for Ukraine.
Denman says the Trump foreign policy aide J.D. Gordon told her at the convention he was asking on behalf of the campaign when he tried to water down this Ukraine language. She says he called New York and told her he talked with Donald Trump himself.
J.D. Gordon has told our colleague Ryan Lucas that he's disputing Denman's account that Gordon was the detail man, not the president of the United States. And Gordon said he didn't want to get into a he-said, she-said. But the special counsel and the FBI will have access to those phone records, and they're going to be able to tell with whom J.D. Gordon talked last year at the convention about this Ukraine business.
KELLY: OK, so this is complicated - yet more names to keep track of in the Russian investigation. But the significance here, Carrie, would be whether Trump may have personally been involved with changing the GOP platform and what they might tell us about communications between the Trump campaign and Russia.
JOHNSON: Exactly. And to be fair, J.D. Gordon says President Trump was on the record as a candidate last year that he did not want to start World War III, and he did not want to get into a major fight about Ukraine. So this position wouldn't be in contradiction to that.
KELLY: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks, Carrie.
JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.