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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Mike Flynn's lawyers cut communications with Trump team

The decision could indicate a move to cooperate with investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election

Mike Flynn arrives at news conference by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and US president Donald Trump at the White House on February 13, 2017, the day he was forced to resign as the president's national security adviser because of undisclosed contact with Russian officials. Carlos Barria / Reuters
Mike Flynn arrives at news conference by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and US president Donald Trump at the White House on February 13, 2017, the day he was forced to resign as the president's national security adviser because of undisclosed contact with Russian officials. Carlos Barria / Reuters

Lawyers for former national security adviser Michael Flynn have told President Donald Trump's legal team that they are no longer communicating with them about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference.

The decision could be a sign that Mr Flynn is moving to cooperate with Mr Mueller's investigation or negotiate a deal for himself. His legal team communicated the decision this week, said a person familiar with the move.

In large criminal investigations, defence lawyers routinely share information with each other. But it can become unethical to continue such communication if one of the potential targets is looking to negotiate a deal with prosecutors. Robert Kelner, a lawyer for Mr Flynn, did not respond to a request for comment. A lawyer for Mr Flynn's son, Michael Flynn Jr, who has also come under investigation from Mr Mueller's team of prosecutors, declined to comment.

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Mr Flynn was forced to resign as national security adviser in February after White House officials concluded that he had misled them about the nature of his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the transition period between the Barack Obama and Trump administrations.

He was interviewed by the FBI in January about his communications with the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. The deputy attorney general at the time, Sally Yates, soon advised White House officials that their public assertions that Mr Flynn had not discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador were incorrect and that Mr Flynn was therefore in a compromised position.

Mr Flynn was facing a justice department investigation over his foreign business dealings even before Mr Mueller was appointed in May to investigate potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mr Mueller has since inherited that investigation.

Mr Flynn, a prominent Trump backer on the campaign trail, has been a key figure in Mr Mueller's probe and of particular interest to Mr Trump. Former FBI director James Comey, for instance, said that Mr Trump encouraged him to end an FBI investigation into Flynn during a private Oval Office meeting in February.

In addition to scrutinising Mr Flynn's contacts with Russia during the transition and campaign, Mr Mueller has been investigating the retired US army lieutenant general's role in $530,000 (Dh1.95m) worth of lobbying work his now-defunct firm performed for a Turkish businessman during the final months of the presidential campaign.

The lobbying campaign sought to gather derogatory information on Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric and green-card holder living in Pennsylvania. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Mr Gulen of being behind a botched coup and has sought his extradition. Mr Gulen has denied the allegations, and US officials have rebuffed Turkey's extradition demands, citing a lack of evidence.

Mr Flynn and his firm, Flynn Intel Group, carried out the lobbying and research work for several months, meeting with officials from the US and Turkish governments. Mr Flynn also published an op-ed on election day in The Hill newspaper, parroting many of the Turkish government's assertions about Mr Gulen. At the time, neither Mr Flynn nor his company was registered with the justice department to represent Turkish interests.

Soon after the publication of the op-ed, the justice department began investigating Mr Flynn's lobbying work, and in March, he registered with the department as a foreign agent. In federal filings, Mr Flynn acknowledged the work could have benefited the government of Turkey.

Since then, FBI agents working for Mr Mueller have been investigating whether the Turkish government was directing the lobbying work and not a private company owned by a Turkish businessman, Ekim Alptekin, as Mr Flynn's firm has contended. FBI agents have also been asking about Mr Flynn's business partner, Bijan Kian, who served on Mr Trump's presidential transition, and his son, Michael Flynn Jr, who worked for his father as part of the lobbying campaign. Mr Flynn's son was a near constant presence around his father during the Trump campaign and presidential transition period.

Mr Mueller announced his first charges in the investigation last month, including the guilty plea of a foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos, and the indictments of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates.