SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
President Trump's national security adviser for 24 days, Michael Flynn, is cooperating with the special counsel Robert Mueller after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. NPR's justice reporter Ryan Lucas joins us in the studio.
Ryan, thanks so much for being with us.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: My pleasure.
SIMON: What did you see in the records from General Flynn's appearance yesterday at the federal courthouse that struck you most?
LUCAS: Well, the court records provide details on a series of conversations that Flynn had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., a man by the name of Sergey Kislyak. And the phone calls between these two took place during the transition - so after Trump had won the election, and he was the president-elect. Now, some of the calls were on Dec. 22, during which Flynn and Kislyak discussed a pending U.N. security resolution on the Israeli settlements. The other calls were on Dec. 29. Those were about sanctions that the Obama administration had just imposed on Russia over its election hacking. Now, Flynn asked the ambassador not to retaliate to the sanctions that the Obama administration had imposed. Russia announced the day after the call that it would not retaliate.
SIMON: And the president had an approving tweet saying, I always knew Vladimir Putin was a smart guy. He wrote that.
LUCAS: Right. Right. But perhaps, the most important thing that we learned in these papers was that Flynn consulted senior transition officials about these conversations with the Russian envoy at the time. And in the case of the U.N. resolution, the court papers said that he was in touch with a, quote, "very senior member" of the transition who directed Flynn's outreach.
SIMON: And we'll get to the question of that very senior member of the transition team. But let's note first, Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI while he was national security adviser, not to conspiring with the Russians over anything. So does this - is the White House - the Trump White House right to see this as some kind of an exoneration?
LUCAS: Not exactly. No. And, you know, White House special counsel Ty Cobb yesterday did try to distance the administration from Flynn, following the plea deal. Now, as for Flynn's charge, you're right. It's not conspiring with the Russians. But lying to the FBI is a serious offense. Generally, carry - it can carry up to five years in prison. But court papers show that under Flynn's plea agreement, he faces from zero to six months. That would suggest that he has a lot to offer Mueller.
SIMON: Yes. And can we assume he wouldn't have gotten that plea if he hadn't started offering it already and convince them that he's got a lot?
LUCAS: That's right. That's right. And look. Flynn was a big Trump supporter during the campaign. He held a senior role in the White House itself. Mueller's going to want to know everything that Flynn knows about the Trump camp, about his contacts with Russia. And it's important to remember here that Flynn pleaded guilty to a single false statements charge. But we know that he has a host of other legal problems related to his business dealings with foreign clients, lobbying on behalf of Turkey - his son was tied up in some of those affairs. At one point, it even seemed that Mueller may have had enough material to charge Flynn's son, as well. His son was not charged yesterday. Flynn himself was not charged over those matters. All of that suggests that Flynn has something significant to provide to Mueller and that he is indeed doing just that.
SIMON: And very senior official. There can't be very many very senior officials, can there be?
LUCAS: No. No, the list is definitely short. But look. The court papers tied Flynn's - the court papers tied to Flynn's plea deal make clear that Flynn was instructed by senior folks in the transition. Those officials are not identified, as we noted. You know, one was referred to as a senior official, another as a very senior transition official. While they're not identified, Mueller certainly knows who they are. And he's going to use the information that he has to continue to move up the chain.
SIMON: NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas. Thanks so much for being with us, Ryan.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.