Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security advisor, faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty Friday to charges of making false statements to the FBI.
The charges mark the first known criminal case against a current or former official in Trump's presidential administration as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 election.
Flynn said in a statement that he was cooperating with Mueller's investigation "to set things right."
Prosecutors said in court Friday that "a very senior member of the transition team directed" Flynn to contact the Russian ambassador.
The government did not reveal the identity of the senior transition official, but news organizations including CNN, BuzzFeed News and NBC News reported that sources identified the official as Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and adviser. "I don't think you get closer to the president than Jared Kushner," said CNN's Fareed Zakaria.
According to a court filing, Flynn made "false, fictitious and fraudulent statements" to the FBI on Jan. 24 about conversation he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak last December. Prosecutors in Mueller's office said Flynn falsely stated to the FBI that he had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak.
In June, former F.B.I. Director James Comey testified that President Trump pressured him to drop his investigation into Flynn and his calls with Kislyak, writing that Trump said, "'I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
Flynn is the fourth person to be charged in connection with Mueller's investigation. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, a former business associate of Manafort, face 12 charges, including "conspiracy against the United States." George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser during the Trump campaign, has pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about the nature of contacts he had within Russia.
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President Trump is remaining silent about the news involving Flynn and Kushner, but he did jump on Twitter to deny a New York Times report that the administration was planning to force out Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replace him with CIA director Mike Pompeo.
According to the Times report, Trump has not signed off on the plan, which was developed by John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff.
Friday's court filing notes that Flynn contacted the then-Russian ambassador, urging him to delay a vote to defeat a resolutions that would have condemned Israel's settlements as a "flagrant violation" of international law.
According to the FBI, the call took place a month before Trump's inauguration, while President Obama remained in office. The United States abstained from the vote, allowing the resolution to ultimately pass.
According to BuzzFeed's report, a Trump transition official "who was in the room where Flynn took the call" confirmed it was Kushner, and said the president's son-in-law told Flynn "this was a top priority for the president."
In January, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed Flynn has simply texted Kislyak to wish him "Merry Christmas and happy New Year."
Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano said the news that Flynn was cooperating with Mueller's investigation is "a nightmare" for President Trump.
"I think this is probably the tip of the prosecutorial iceberg," Napolitano said on Fox News' Outnumbered. "It's a nightmare for Donald Trump because General Flynn was his constant companion on foreign policy and national security matters from June of 2015 until till time the president had fired him in February of 2017."
Also on Outnumbered, Fox News chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge said a source who is "very close" to Flynn outlined the reasons he entered into the agreement to cooperate.
"He was broken financially, he was broken emotionally and that his family could not face another two to three years under the sort of lever of the government in the Russia investigation," Herridge said.
Former FBI director James Comey offered his thoughts following Flynn's admission he lied about his contact with Russian officials.
Comey was fired as FBI director by Trump in May. The president admitted to NBC News' Lester Holt he was considering "this Russia thing" when he made the decision.
"And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said 'you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won'," Trump said at the time.
Ty Cobb, special counsel for the White House, said in a statement: "Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn."
"The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year," Cobb said. "The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel's work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion."
Trump has not made a public statement about the charges or Flynn's plea.
In a statement issued after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, Flynn wrote that his guilty plea was a way to "set things right."
"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 our country," Flynn said. "I accept full responsibility for my actions,"
The Dow Jones Industrial Average quickly dropped by more than 120 points after ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross reported that Flynn was not only cooperating with Mueller's investigation, but was prepared to testify that, as a presidential candidate, Trump "directed him to make contact with the Russians." (ABC News later said that the source clarified that president-elect had directed Flynn to get in touch with the Russians about working together to fight ISIS in Syria.)
Though her spokesman, Democratic presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to comment on the charges filed against Flynn, who regularly led chants of "Lock her up!" at Trump rallies during the 2016 election.
In her recent book What Happened, Clinton wrote that Mueller's focus on Flynn offered a "certain poetic justice now in remembering how enthusiastic Michael Flynn was about sending me to jail."
Andrew Levchuk, a former prosecutor who spent 24 years with the Department of Justice, said the only explanation for the light penalties Flynn could face is that the former adviser is now cooperating with Mueller's investigation.
CNN's Gloria Borger reports that a source close to Trump responded to the charges filed against Flynn by pointing out "everyone lies" in Washington.
Borger said the source, who refused to comment on the record, maintained that "he was still not worried about any potential cooperation between Flynn and the prosecutors, if that were to be the case."
A tweet President Trump sent in March referring to the investigation of Flynn as a "witch hunt" was shared widely following the news that Flynn was facing charges for allegedly lying to the F.B.I.
"Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!" Trump wrote on Twitter.