Donald Trump was dragged into the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election for the first time om Friday night.
Michael Flynn, who on Friday admitted lying to the FBI, has agreed to work with investigators looking into Russian election meddling as part of a plea bargain.
He is prepared to say that Mr Trump “directed him to make contact with the Russians”, according to a bombshell report by ABC News.
The claim sent the US stock market tumbling and brought the Russian election scandal a step closer to the Oval Office in a dramatic day in Washington.
Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law, was also named in US media reports as another figure who asked Flynn to reach out to officials from Russia, among other countries.
The White House fought back on Friday night, labelling Mr Flynn a “former Obama administration official” who spent just 25 days in the Trump administration.
The row overshadowed news that Mr Trump has enough Senate votes to pass major tax cuts in what would be his biggest legislative victory.
Allegations that Mr Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian government – blamed for hacking Democratic Party emails during the campaign – to win the election have dogged his first year in office.
Flynn is the first White House official to be charged as part of an investigation into Russian election meddling led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Three other Trump campaign figures – Paul Manafort, Richard Gates and George Papadopoulos – were charged in October.
Flynn, a former general and senior intelligence official, played a prominent role in Mr Trump’s campaign and became US national security adviser after the election victory, before resigning a month later over his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the US.
On Friday he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI on January 24 – just four days after Mr Trump’s inauguration – about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Flynn admitted to urging Mr Kislyak not to hit back at new American sanctions on Russia during a meeting in December 2016, after Mr Trump won the election.
He also conceded he had asked the Russian ambassador to delay a vote on a UN security council resolution in the same month.
That is believed to be a reference to a resolution condemning Israel’s settlements in Palestinian territory, which Mr Trump opposed but Mr Obama’s administration planned to sit out.
While neither admission proves collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin before the election, it suggests that after victory Trump advisers were reaching out to Russia to undermine Mr Obama’s policies.
The more significant development could be Flynn’s willingness to work with investigators, given the central role he played during Mr Trump’s campaign.
Flynn has agreed to detail how “a senior official” of Mr Trump’s transition team at his Mar-a-Lago resort discussed what to tell the Russians, according to prosecutors.
Details about what another “very senior member” of the Trump transition team said about the UN vote are also set to be revealed.
Numerous US media outlets named Mr Kushner, who is married to Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka, as the unnamed figure who discussed the UN vote.
ABC News, the US broadcaster, went a step further by saying Flynn is prepared to say that Mr Trump “directed him to make contact with the Russians”.
Flynn’s decision to work with Mr Mueller’s investigation in turn for leniency comes after reports his son Michael Flynn Jr, was being looked into.
There were reports Flynn was facing paying more than a million dollars in legal fees if he did not co-operate and would even have to put his house on sale.
In a statement Flynn said: “After over 33 years of military service to our country, including nearly five years in combat away from my family, and then my decision to continue to serve the United States, it has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of ‘treason’ and other outrageous acts.
“Such false accusations are contrary to everything I have ever done and stood for. But I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working 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 of our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer, said: “Today, Michael Flynn, a former National Security Advisor at the White House for 25 days during the Trump Administration, and a former Obama administration official, entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI.
“The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.
“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.”
US stock markets took an initial hit after the news, with the Dow Jones dropping 1.4 per cent and the S&P 500 falling 1.6 per cent before rallying later.
James Comey, the former FBI director fired by Mr Trump, reacted by quoting the Bible in a tweet: “But justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”