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U.S. President Donald Trump defended his disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn on Saturday, saying that the basis of a special prosecutor's actions against the former general were "lawful" and above board — even as he acknowledged Flynn had lied to federal officials.
Earlier, Trump told reporters that there was "no collusion" with Russia, in spite of Flynn entering a guilty plea on Friday for having lied to the FBI about discussions he held with a Russian ambassador. The president added that he was "very happy" about the developments, while reiterating there had been no coordination between his campaign and Moscow.
However, Trump later tweeted that he was forced to fire Flynn for lying to both Vice President Mike Pence and federal investigators, adding that Flynn's discussions were "nothing to hide." If accurate, it is still unclear why Flynn felt compelled to make a false statement in the first place.
Friday's report by ABC, which has now been corrected by the news outlet, suggested that Flynn was prepared to testify that he was directed by Trump to make overtures to a Russian diplomat. The initial report sparked a media firestorm that was quelled only after ABC clarified that Flynn's actions had occurred during the transition.
Months of probing by special prosecutor Robert Mueller culminated in Flynn's guilty plea, which came days after it emerged that the former general's legal team had stopped cooperating with Trump's lawyers. Still, there appeared to be little immediate evidence that the Trump campaign made any efforts to collaborate with Russia's suspected attempts to influence the general election.
Flynn's plea, combined with the recent indictment of former campaign chair Paul Manafort, has underscored a convoluted web of who said what to whom and when.
Ultimately, however, the case is mostly characterized by what an Associated Press report on Saturday referred to "lots of smoke, but no smoking gun." Even the president's sharpest detractors have been unable to find concrete evidence that his campaign may have coordinated with, or was even aware of, Russian efforts to swing the election.
Even Leon Panetta, former president Barack Obama's Secretary of Defense and a veteran of the Clinton administration, acknowledged that anyone trying to find criminality with the Trump transition team speaking to the Russians would be reaching.
Panetta told MSNBC on Friday that it was a "stretch" to say transition officials broke the law, even though the Obama administration still held the reins of government at the time.