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Michael Flynn’s Russia problem just became an FBI problem

Donald Trump, left, jokes with retired Gen. Michael Flynn as they speak at an Oct. 18 campaign stop in Grand Junction Colo. (George Frey/Getty Images)
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Update: In a significant development, the Republican who leads the House Intelligence Committee is now expressing a willingness to expand the committee's Russia investigation to include Flynn. The chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) previously suggested the controversy was manufactured and had high praise for Flynn. He also suggested the probe would be more likely to focus on how information about Flynn was leaked, rather than looking at Flynn himself.

"The committee is not preemptively excluding any topics or individuals from our inquiry, and we expect that the investigation will lead us to interview current and former U.S. officials," Nunes said.

Michael Flynn misled Vice President Pence about discussing sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and that got him fired by President Trump.

Now we find out Flynn also denied discussing those sanctions to the FBI, and it could get much worse for both him and the Trump administration.

The Post is reporting:

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn denied to FBI agents in an interview last month that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States before President Trump took office, contradicting the contents of intercepted communications collected by intelligence agencies, current and former U.S. officials said.
The Jan. 24 interview potentially puts Flynn in legal jeopardy, as lying to FBI is a felony, but any decision to prosecute would ultimately lie with the Justice Department. Some officials said bringing a case could prove difficult in part because Flynn may attempt to parse the definition of sanctions.
A spokesman for Flynn said he had no response. The FBI declined to comment.

This is big, if not totally unexpected. Flynn’s Jan. 24 interview with the FBI came weeks before he denied discussing sanctions with the ambassador in an interview with The Washington Post. And if he denied it to The Post, it stood to reason, he may have denied it to investigators.

Flynn has since changed his tune, of course. When The Post reported that the intercepted communications showed the two had discussed sanctions, his spokesperson backed off his previous denials and said he didn’t remember discussing them. He has since told a conservative publication that he and the ambassador discussed the Obama administration’s expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats, which were part of the sanctions, but not the sanctions more broadly. Hence, apparently, the misunderstanding.

The Trump administration is still denying that Flynn’s discussions of sanctions were improper in the first place. Some have suggested they perhaps violated the Logan Act, which prohibits unauthorized citizens from handling particular matters of diplomacy. If there was a coverup, this was what was being covered up.

But as is often the case, the coverup here would be worse than the crime — or the alleged crime. The fact is that the Logan Act is an arcane, seldom-invoked law, and it’s not clear Flynn's discussion of sanctions would run afoul of it. Trump even said Thursday that he would have advised Flynn to discuss sanctions if the two of them had discussed the calls with the ambassador beforehand. Nonetheless, he said they hadn’t.

In one way, Flynn’s denial to the FBI backs up his later contentions that he simply didn’t remember talking about sanctions or that his own personal definition of sanctions didn’t include the expulsions. He said the same thing to both the FBI, under the penalty of perjury, and then initially to The Washington Post (before softening his stance).

But it also opens this up to all kinds of questions — specifically, how he could have missed the fact that the expulsions were part of the sanctions, and why he wouldn’t be absolutely certain about what he talked about with the FBI, given the stakes involved. You would expect someone in Flynn’s position to do their homework beforehand and only deny things of which they were certain. Yet Flynn hadn’t nailed down his story even weeks later.

So it also throws more fuel on the fire when it comes to the burgeoning scandal. If Flynn had admitted discussing sanctions to the FBI but denied it to everyone else, he would have clearly been a liar, but at least not one with legal problems. The fact that a possible prosecution of Flynn — not for violating the Logan Act, but possibly for lying to the FBI — is now on the table makes this a story that isn’t going away anytime soon.

Part of the reason Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation was undoubtedly in hopes of putting this issue behind the White House. That’s no longer going to be the case. Republicans who have been shunning the need for a full-fledged investigation into the matter will now find that posture much more difficult to hold.

It’s also worth emphasizing that the interview with the FBI came Jan. 24 — four days after Trump’s inauguration and when Flynn was an official, high-ranking White House adviser.

That means this is any full-fledged scandal here is tied to the White House, and not just Trump’s transition effort or his campaign. Of course, any way you slice it, this is just looking worse and worse for the Trump team — not to mention Flynn.