This article has been updated.
On Friday, another card played from special counsel Robert Mueller III’s closely held hand: An indictment against former national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI.
By itself, the indictment isn’t surprising. Flynn left his position in the White House after less than a month specifically because it was revealed that he lied to Vice President Pence about the contents of his phone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last December.
The indictment simply formalizes what we already knew. Adapted from earlier timelines, this is how the events central to the indictment unfolded.
The run-up to the Flynn indictment
Nov. 8, 2016: Trump wins the election.
Nov. 17: President-elect Trump names Flynn his intended national security adviser. The position does not require Senate approval.
Late November: Flynn is warned about communicating with Kislyak by members of Trump’s transition team.
Dec. 1: Flynn and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner meet with Kislyak at Trump Tower. In communications intercepted by American intelligence agencies, Kislyak later tells Moscow that Kushner advocated a private communications channel between Trump’s team and the Kremlin.
Dec. 22: According to the statement of offense filed by Mueller’s team, a “very senior member” of the Trump transition team tells Flynn to “contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia” to try and influence votes on a U.N. resolution about Israeli settlements. According to the charging document, Flynn and Kislyak have a conversation in which Flynn asks Russia to vote against the resolution or to delay it.
Bloomberg reports that the “very senior” official may have been Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Dec. 25: Flynn texts Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, to wish him a merry Christmas and to express condolences for a plane crash, according to Pence in a January interview.
Dec. 28: Obama announces measures meant to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. According to the statement of offense, Kislyak contacts Flynn.
Dec. 29: Flynn calls an unidentified senior official with the Trump transition team who was at Mar-a-Lago to ask what he should say to Kislyak.
Flynn and Kislyak speak, after which Flynn again calls the transition official to inform him or her of the discussion. These calls were apparently on unsecured lines, and monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies.
The charging document claims that Flynn later lied about the content of the calls with Kislyak, including that Flynn denied having asked the Russians to refrain from escalating tensions by retaliating with sanctions of their own. In other words: Flynn did make that request.
Dec. 30: Trump praises Putin for not escalating tensions by retaliating.
Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2016
Dec. 31: Kislyak calls Flynn and tells him that Russia didn’t escalate at the Trump team’s request. Flynn again informs “senior members” of the transition team about the conversation.
Jan. 12, 2017: The Post’s David Ignatius reveals the conversations between Flynn and Kislyak. “What did Flynn say,” he wonders, “and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions?” The Logan Act bars unauthorized citizens from contacting foreign governments “with an intent to influence its measures or conduct in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States.”
Jan. 15: Pence appears on CBS’s “Face the Nation” and is asked about the Flynn conversations, which he characterizes as “a conversation.”
“It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation,” Pence says. “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
“What I can confirm, having spoken to him about it,” he adds, “is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.”
Jan. 20: Trump takes the oath of office as president.
Jan. 22: Flynn is sworn in as national security adviser.
Jan. 24: Four days into the Trump administration and two days into his job, the FBI interviews Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak.
According to the charging document, Flynn in that interview denied asking the Russians to having inappropriate conversations during the calls with Kislyak on Dec. 22 and 29.
Jan. 26: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informs White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn was lying about the nature of his calls with Kislyak and that this made him vulnerable to blackmail by Russia. The meeting takes place in McGahn’s office at the White House, a secure location.
Jan. 27: Yates and McGahn meet again at the White House. Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer later says that McGahn subsequently reviewed the legality of Flynn’s actions, determining that no law was broken.
Jan. 31: Yates is fired by Trump after announcing that she would not defend his immigration executive order.
Feb. 8: Flynn tells a reporter from The Post that he didn’t discuss sanctions in his conversations with Kislyak. Asked repeatedly, he twice says “no” to the question.
Feb. 9: Flynn’s spokesman walks that back. Flynn “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up,” he tells The Post. According to NBC News, this was also the day that Pence learned about the Jan. 26 message from Yates.
Feb. 13: Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway tells MSNBC that Trump maintains full confidence in Flynn.
Later that evening, The Post reports on the Yates warning to the White House. Flynn subsequently resigns.
In his resignation letter, he writes, “[B]ecause of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador.”
Fox News later reports that Trump himself had been informed about the content of the conversations, though the timing isn’t clear.
Nov. 30: The FBI files the charging document against Flynn.
That’s a remarkable chain of events — but it leaves out another chain of events of which we’re already aware.
Two weeks before the inauguration, Flynn reportedly informed White House counsel McGahn that he was already under FBI investigation — for having failed to report lobbying efforts on behalf of Turkey.
The previous August — well after he was already a prominent surrogate for Trump — Flynn’s firm signed a deal to lobby on behalf of Turkey, an effort that included, among other things, an opinion piece that ran in The Hill the day of the election. By the end of November, the Justice Department had informed Flynn that he was under investigation.
That advocacy led to weird places, according to various reports. Another timeline is in order.
Flynn and Turkey
Aug. 9, 2016: Flynn Intel Group signs a contract with Inovo BV, a business run by a confidant of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Federal law mandates that he register as an agent of a foreign government if he lobbies on behalf of Turkey. Flynn doesn’t do so.
Sep. 19: Former CIA director James Woolsey attends a meeting with Flynn in which Flynn makes reference to kidnapping Fethullah Gulen — an Erdogan opponent who lives in Pennsylvania — and returning him to Turkey.
Nov. 8: Flynn’s piece criticizing Gulen appears in The Hill. Gulen is described as “a shady Islamic mullah.”
Nov. 30: Flynn is informed he’s under investigation for his unreported lobbying.
Mid-December: At a dinner in New York, Flynn reportedly again raises the idea of kidnapping Gulen — allegedly also suggesting that he might receive $15 million for his help in making it happen.
Jan. 4, 2017: Flynn tells McGahn about the Justice Department investigation and that he may need to register as a foreign agent.
Jan. 22: Flynn begins work as national security adviser.
Feb. 11: Flynn belatedly files a financial disclosure form that excludes several foreign payments.
Feb. 13: Flynn resigns.
March 31: Flynn amends his disclosure to include some Russia-related income.
Aug. 3: Flynn again amends his financial disclosure report to include more lobbying work.
There’s a lot included in that second timeline that almost certainly came up during the FBI’s investigation with Flynn and its subsequent conversations with him that led to Friday’s indictment.
That only one aspect of it is mentioned in documents released by Mueller’s office is one hint of many that Flynn may be cooperating with the special counsel in order to lighten the legal repercussions from his truncated time in public service.