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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Trump changes his story on why he fired Mike Flynn

The president has now tweeted the former National Security Adviser was sacked for lying to the FBI

Donald Trump delivers remarks as he walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on the guilty plea by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.  EPA/Shawn Thew
Donald Trump delivers remarks as he walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on the guilty plea by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. EPA/Shawn Thew

The US president Donald Trump explained on Twitter on Saturday that he had sacked Mike Flynn from the post of National Security Adviser in February for lying to both the FBI and vice president Mike Pence, a turnabout from the initial reason given for the firing.

“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!” the president tweeted.

However, he had initially said that it was just the lies to the vice president that had made the offence so grave that Mr Flynn had to leave his position after just 24 days, the shortest tenure of anyone in the role in history.

Lying to the FBI is a crime, which Mr Flynn acknowledged on Friday when he plead guilty to the charge and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s Russia investigation.

The confusion now is why the president claims now that the FBI offence was one of the reasons for sacking Mr Flynn – and it opens the president to the suggestion that he has known for the last ten months about it but hasn’t mentioned it until his former chief security aide, a man who once was spoken of as a vice presidential candidate himself, admitted to it.

It has subsequently been reported that the tweet was actually authored by Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd.

Two sources told The Washington Post on Saturday that Mr Dowd, Mr Trump’s chief counsel, wrote the tweet. The White House has not yet commented, the claims about the authorship of the tweet could change whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller would investigate it or if it was seen as being a member of the administration falling on their sword to protect the president.

Mr Flynn left the White House in February, only acknowledging that he had given an incomplete account to Pence of his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. After Mr Trump forced Mr Flynn out, he asked FBI director James Comey to end the bureau’s probe in the matter. Mr Comey refused, and was fired too.

Mr Trump has been publicly dismissive of Mr Comey and of special counsel Mr Mueller's continuing investigation, and was often generous in his appraisal of Flynn, except to say his adviser could not stay on the job after misleading his vice president.

Meanwhile, it was revealed on Saturday that a member of Mr Mueller’s team examining alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election – a top FBI investigator – was removed from his team for exchanging text messages with a colleague that expressed anti-Trump views.

The New York Times and the Washington Post identified the investigator as FBI agent Peter Strzok, the deputy head of FBI counter-intelligence. He was reassigned last summer to the FBI’s human resources department after the Justice Department's inspector general began looking into the text messages, the papers said, quoting several unidentified people familiar with the matter.

Mr Strzok played a key role in the FBI investigation into former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, the papers said.

During that probe and the 2016 presidential election, Strzok and an FBI colleague exchanged texts that disparaged then-Republican candidate Donald Trump and favoured Clinton, his Democratic rival, the Washington Post said. The newspapers did not disclose details of the text messages.

Reuters was unable to reach Strzok for comment. The New York Times said that a lawyer for Mr Strzok declined to comment, while the Washington Post said it repeatedly sought comment from Mr Strzok, but received no response.

Mr Mueller’s office confirmed the removal of the agent, but did not elaborate on the cause.

“Immediately upon learning of the allegations, the special counsel’s office removed Peter Strzok from the investigation,” spokesman Peter Carr said.

In apparent reference to the case, the Justice Department inspector general’s office said in a statement on Saturday that it was “reviewing allegations involving communications between certain individuals.”

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