The White House sought to distance itself from U.S. President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty Friday of lying to federal investigators about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the U.S.
White House attorney Ty Cobb said Flynn was a "former Obama administration official" who served in the Trump White House for only 25 days and the guilty plea does not implicate "anyone other than Mr. Flynn."
Republican congressional reaction to the plea was mostly muted in the hours immediately following the plea, unlike an outpouring of responses from their Democratic counterparts.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee — which is conducting one of several congressional investigations into Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — said it would be unacceptable for Trump to try to influence the probes.
"This guilty plea also comes on the heels of a new report about the president's efforts to silence the independent, bipartisan Senate investigation into ties between Trump associates and Russia. It is part of an alarming pattern in which the president has already fired the FBI director; pressured the attorney general and top U.S. intelligence officials to interfere with an ongoing investigation; and contemplated issuing pardons for his associates or firing the special counsel, according to numerous press reports," Warner said.
Possible reactions seen
Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own probe into Russia's role in the election, speculated Flynn's plea might prompt the Trump administration and its allies to attempt to curtail the congressional investigations or try to end prematurely special counsel Robert Mueller's probe. Schiff said Congress "must make clear" that the investigations must continue.
"Given the much broader exposure Michael Flynn had on a range of other issues, if this is the universe that he is pleading to, it says to me that Bob Mueller must be getting fairly substantial cooperation from General Flynn," Schiff said.
Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York said Flynn's guilty plea indicated the House Judiciary Committee has enough evidence to investigate Trump for obstruction of justice.
"There is now more than enough evidence to form the basis of a congressional investigation into the president's obstruction of justice, and it is long past time that the House Committee on the Judiciary engage on this matter. I urge Chairman [Bob] Goodlatte [a Virginia Republican] to finally begin our oversight work without delay," Nadler said.
Nadler added, "This development adds further weight to our suspicion of President Trump's corrupt motives when he approached former FBI Director [James] Comey about the Flynn investigation and asked that he 'let it go.' "
Trump fired Comey as he was leading the agency's investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 presidential election and possible Trump campaign collusion with Moscow. Comey's firing led to the appointment of Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation.