President Trump's personal lawyer said Sunday that the president knew in late January that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had probably given FBI agents the same inaccurate account he had given Vice President Pence about. a call with the Russian ambbadador.  Trump's lawyer, John Dowd, said the information was transmitted to Trump by White House attorney Donald McGahn, who had been warned about Flynn's statement to the vice president by a senior Justice Department official. The vice president said publicly at the time that Flynn had told him he had not discussed the sanctions with the Russian diplomat, a statement refuted by an American intelligence interception of a phone call between Flynn and the then Russian ambbadador Sergey Kislyak.
Trump was aware of the problem a couple of weeks before a conversation with then-FBI Director James B. Comey in which Comey said the president asked him if he could be lenient when investigating Flynn, whom Trump had just dismiss for deceiving Pence. about the nature of his conversations with the Russian.
According to Comey's notes, Trump asked if he could see "his free way to let this happen, let Flynn go". Trump fired Comey in May.
In a tweet before dawn on Sunday, Trump issued a new rebuttal to Comey, writing: "I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn, just more fake news covering another Comey lie! " The tweet was part of a Trump comment that began on Saturday, a day after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and indicated that he would cooperate with special attorney Robert S. Mueller III, who is investigating Russian interference in the elections. of 2016.
Trump's Saturday tweets had fueled the controversy, as he wrote that "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI." Previously, the White House had cited only the false statements to Pence as justification for firing Flynn.
Dowd confirmed on Sunday that he had written the tweet for Trump and acknowledged that it was worded sloppily. He said it was inaccurate to say that the president was told that Flynn had lied to the FBI. Dowd said on Sunday that Trump only knew what interim Attorney General Sally Yates had told the White House lawyer: that Flynn's accounts to the agents interviewing him were the same that Flynn gave Pence, and "that the Department [Justice] did not accuse him lying. "
People familiar with the Yates account say they never discussed any part of the FBI's investigation with the White House.
Dowd downplayed Trump's tweet, saying he had no intention of making news and said: "I'm out of the tweet business."
[Graphic: Here’s what we know so far about Team Trump’s ties to Russian interests]
But several legal experts said the tweet, and some of Dowd's comments about what the president may have known, could increase the legal exposure of the president.
If Trump knew that Flynn might not have been accurate with the FBI, he could provide motivation for any alleged effort to obstruct justice, said Barak Cohen, a former federal prosecutor who targets-c. ollar defense work at the law firm Perkins Coie. "It reinforces the intention to commit an obstruction," he said.
Even if Dowd wrote the tweet, Cohen said, "If President Trump sends it, then Trump has adopted it." It's his statement … The end result is that the tweet is still bad for Trump: it makes things worse for him. "
A person close to the White House involved in the case called the tweet of Saturday " a mistake of Twitter "historical proportions" that have "caused enormous dismay in the White House"
The person who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to speak frankly, said White House officials quickly realized that the tweet could significantly help Mueller if he chooses to pursue a case of The development aroused particular concern because others around Trump were not sure that Trump knew that Flynn had made a false statement to the FBI at the time he fired him, the
Democrats rushed to pounce on the development during the appearances at Sunday's public events are shown.
In an interview, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) Said that she thought that "what we are beginning to see is the construction of a case of obstruction of justice."
Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Feinstein, the leading Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said he based his badessment on Flynn's indictment on Friday and three other Trump badociates previously, as well as on the "attitude hyper-frantic. " of the White House: the comments every day, the continuous tweets. "
" And I see it, most importantly, in what happened with the dismissal of Director Comey, and it is my belief that that is directly because [Comey] I did not agree to raise the cloud of Russian research ", said Feinstein." That is an obstruction of justice. "
Sen. Mark R. Warner (VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that Trump should have taken action against Flynn earlier if he knew that his national security adviser had lied to the FBI.
"Well, if he knew then, why did not he act before? "Warner said in the" State of the Union "of CNN." It raises a whole series of additional questions. "
Flynn, who had been one of Trump's closest and most reliable aides during the campaign and transition, admitted to lying to the FBI about pre-inauguration communications with Kislyak, on efforts to mitigate the sanctions of the Obama administration and a UN resolution on Israel, possible violations of a law rarely applied.
Dowd told The Post that Trump knew in general that Flynn's account at FBI and Pence were similar due to a conversation with McGahn on or around January 26. Dowd said that McGahn relayed what he had learned from Yates.
According to Dowd, Yates said McG On January 26, at a meeting She requested, Flynn seemed to have tricked Pence into the nature of her call with Kislyak and that could compromise him, Dowd said, and Yates also indicated that the FBI interviewed Flynn on January 24 about his s contacts with Kislyak, said Dowd. Dowd said Yates did not say that Flynn cheated the FBI, but suggested that Flynn had given FBI agents "the same story he gave." the vice president. "
" For some reason, the [Justice] Department did not want to make an accusation of lying, "Dowd said." Agents thought Flynn was confused. "
The past descriptions of those events by Yates and others are in Disagreement with Dowd's account.
According to several current and former law enforcement officers who spoke with The Post in February, Yates said McGahn said Flynn had discussed the sanctions against Russia in his phone calls with Kislyak, who was compromised. because he had lied to the vice president and that he might be vulnerable to blackmail, according to the officers.
He also told McGahn that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI two days earlier, officials said, when McGahn asked him how he did it. In the interview, Yates did not respond, according to officials who spoke with The Post, and later testified the same at a Senate hearing in May.
"Mr. McGahn asked me how he did it, and I refused to give him an answer to that, "Yates said at the hearing.
Yates told McGahn she was concerned about Flynn's underlying behavior: calls with the Russian ambbadador and the fact that he was not telling the truth to the vice president, according to officials who spoke with The Post in February
Yates offered to show McGahn the underlying evidence regarding phone calls, and said the FBI could gather the material for him to see, officials said.
McGahn was told on January 30 that the material was ready for review, officials said That night, Trump dismissed Yates for his refusal to defend his travel ban.
] A person familiar with McGahn says the White House lawyer did not give Trump any indication in January that Flynn had violated the law in his interview with the FBI or the president who believed Flynn was b garlic criminal investigation.
When Yates met with McGahn on January 26, it is McGahn's account that she told him that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI but that she refused to characterize the interview. He also did not say whether Flynn was under investigation, according to the person familiar with McGahn's thinking.
That person said McGahn also remembers that Yates added that Flynn had told the FBI something similar to what he had told Pence, based on Pence's public comments on the subject at the time.
According to the person familiar with his thought, McGahn informed the president of those events and told him that if Yates was accurately describing the content of Flynn's contact with Kislyak, then Flynn should be fired.
People familiar with the events version of Yates dispute that she characterized what Flynn told the FBI in some way.
A former senior administration official said Sunday there was not a generalized argument in Flynn's White House lying to the FBI.
"There was never a meeting I was in when someone said:" Oh, Flynn lied to the FBI, we have to deal with that, "said the official, who asked to remain anonymous to speak frankly. . "It was," We do not know if he's telling the truth or not. "And then," It's okay, he's not telling us the truth. "
While the controversy was building on Trump's actions on Sunday, he sought to focus attention on news that Peter Strzok – the former top FBI official badigned to Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election – was He retired from that job after his bosses discovered that he and another member of Mueller's team had exchanged politically charged texts that belittled Trump and supported the Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Strzok was also a key player in the investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server, which ended without charges against him.
"Report: & # 39; ANTI-TRUMP FBI AGENT LED CLINTON EMAIL PROBE & Now everything starts to make sense!" Wrote Trump. He also criticized the FBI and promised to return it to "greatness" under his administration.
"After years of Comey, with Clinton's dishonest and dishonest investigation (and more), running the FBI, his reputation is in the rags: The worst in history!" Trump wrote on Twitter. "But do not fear, we will return it to greatness".
Sari Horwitz, Rosalind S. Helderman and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.