Former US national security adviser Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Former US national security adviser Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. JIM LO SCALZO

Trump's tweet could end his hold on power

DONALD Trump is facing claims that a tweet about the firing of his former national security adviser Michael Flynn could amount to obstruction of justice, with one former government ethics official saying it could end his presidency.

Responding to Mr Flynn's guilty plea for lying to the FBI as part of the federal investigation into possible links between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia, Mr Trump tweeted: "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”

Critics jumped on the tweet, claiming it appeared to suggest Mr Trump knew Mr Flynn had lied to investigators before he was forced out of the administration on February 13.

On February 14, Mr Trump allegedly encouraged the head of the FBI to drop the investigation into Mr Flynn.

Mr Flynn, who was interviewed by the FBI on January 24, admitted in court last week that he had made false statements at that time about his contact in December with then-Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. Mr Flynn discussed US sanctions on Russia with the ambassador on December 29.

A week before, they spoke about a United Nations vote on Israel. Mr Flynn admitted to originally telling the FBI he did not do so.

Mr Flynn resigned from the Trump administration after it emerged he had also given inaccurate statements to Vice-President Mike Pence about his interactions with Mr Kislyak.

Ex-FBI director James Comey later testified to Congress that Mr Trump told him on February 14 he hoped Mr Comey could "let this go”, in regards to the investigation of Mr Flynn.

The former director of the US Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, was quick to suggest the tweet might have "ended” any other presidential administration.

Knowing Mr Flynn lied while pressuring the FBI to drop an investigation could potentially be seen as obstruction of justice, according to critics, including California Democrat Representative Ted Lieu.

A lawyer for Mr Trump, Marc Kasowitz, strongly denied Mr Comey's claim at the time it was made.

He told The Washington Post: "The President never in form or substance directed or suggested that Mr Comey stop investigating anyone, including the President never suggested that Mr Comey, quote, 'Let Flynn go,' close quote.”

Mr Trump has consistently denied any collusion with Russia and labelled the investigation a "witch-hunt”.

Mr Comey was fired from his position in May by Mr Trump, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller appointed to take over the investigation.

It originally began as a probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, which a number of US intelligence agencies believe was aimed at aiding Mr Trump, but has grown to include a number of other areas. It is believed obstruction of justice is an area Mr Mueller and his team are also investigating as part of the Russia probe.

However, it would likely not have been difficult for those in the White House to discern that Mr Flynn was potentially under investigation, with Acting Attorney General Sally Yates telling White House Counsel Don McGahn on January 26, two days after Mr Flynn's FBI interview, that he had discussed sanctions with Mr Kislyak. Ms Yates also said that she had told Mr McGahn that Mr Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI but did not characterise what Mr Flynn had told investigators.

As for Mr Trump's tweet about Mr Flynn, Trump administration officials have sought to play down its significance. The Washington Post reported that the tweet was potentially drafted by Trump lawyer John Dowd, citing sources, while other officials called the tweet simply "sloppy”.

After Mr Flynn's guilty plea to the one charge of lying to the FBI, the White House also sought to distance Mr Trump. "Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr Flynn,” Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer, said in a statement.

Mr Flynn is the first Trump official to be charged, but the fourth person connected to the Trump campaign.

In October, former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates were charged with 12 counts of financial crimes related to their work in Ukraine. At the same time, Mr Mueller revealed foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russia -linked individuals - a similar charge Mr Flynn admitted to as part of this plea deal.