Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller III is hoping to question President Donald Trump during the coming weeks about his decisions to oust national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James Comey - the latest sign that the prosecutor's investigation into Russia-Trump "collusion" has pivoted to focusing on obstruction of justice.
With Mueller's probe increasingly focusing on Flynn, who has agreed to testify in exchange for leniency after being indicted for allegedly lying to the FBI, NBC published a bombshell report Wednesday about the meeting that set this whole saga into motion: Flynn's initial meeting with the FBI, which took place exactly one year ago today, on Jan. 24, 2017.
According to NBC, the meeting took place after an employee from the office of Deputy Director Andrew McCabe contacted a scheduler for Flynn to set up a time for Flynn to meet with the FBI. The scheduler put the meeting on Flynn's calendar without asking why the bureau wanted to meet with their boss.
When the agents showed up later that day, Flynn met with them without informing the White House of the National Security Council, or even his own personal lawyer. Apparently, Flynn was unaware that the meeting pertained to his conduct involving agents of the Russian government.
A brief phone call from the office of Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director, to a scheduler for Flynn on Jan. 24 set the interview in motion, according to people familiar with the matter. The scheduler was told the FBI wanted to speak with Flynn later that day, these people said, and the meeting was placed on Flynn’s schedule. The scheduler didn't ask the reason for the meeting, and the FBI didn't volunteer it, one person familiar with the matter said.
Later that day, two FBI agents arrived at the White House to speak with Flynn. A lawyer for the National Security Council typically would be informed of such a meeting and be present for it, one person familiar with the procedures said. But that didn't happen in this instance, and Flynn didn't include his own personal lawyer, two people said. He met with the two federal agents alone, according to these people.
"No one knew that any of this was happening," said another senior White House official who was there at the time.
"Apparently it was not clear to Flynn that this was about his personal conduct," another White House official said. "So he didn't think of bringing his own lawyer."
White House Counsel Don McGahn III was the first White House official to learn about Flynn's meeting, when he was informed by acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Yates also reportedly told McGahn that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence and therefore might be vulnerable to blackmail from the Russians. Yates has been interviewed in Mueller's probe.
Yet, McGahn did not later ask Flynn if he lied to the FBI, one person familiar with the matter said.
McGahn quickly briefed Trump, Bannon and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who left the White House last summer. Still, it would be weeks before Flynn was fired on Feb. 13.
However, it would be months before McGahn realized that Flynn might've lied to the FBI, when Mueller's team requested a trove of documents from Flynn's tenure at the White House.
By the end of 2017, Mueller’s team had spoken with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency; former FBI Director James Comey; and numerous members of Trump’s campaign and White House inner circle. Steve Bannon is expected to meet with Mueller's team by the end of the month. McGahn has also sat for two days of interviews with Mueller's team.
One person familiar with the matter described Pompeo, Coats and Rogers as "peripheral witnesses" to the Comey firing. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who played a key role in Comey's departure and was a top adviser on the Trump campaign, was interviewed by Mueller last week as the special counsel's team inches closer to possibly questioning the president himself.
Notably, Trump has taken aim at McCabe lately, accusing the deputy of political bias, while also maintaining that this phenomenon is widespread throughout the bureau.
Interestingly, one of the two agents who interviewed Flynn was Peter Strzok, who was fired by Mueller last summer and is now the object of Republican ire, after Congress received batches of text messages between Strzok and his mistress, FBI Lawyer Lisa Page, expressing their opposition to Trump. At one point, Page texted Strzok about an "insurance policy" to prevent Trump from becoming president.