(ABC) Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was once a member of President Donald Trump's inner circle of advisers, pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about back-channel conversations with the Russian ambassador as part of a deal with the Special Counsel investigating foreign meddling in the 2016 elections.
Flynn's plea signals the former top adviser to Trump is now cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team. A brief statement released by Mueller's team Friday morning does not say what information Flynn has provided the government as part of the deal, but people familiar with the agreement told ABC News Friday he has made decision to assist investigators.
The general told confidants about his decision to plead gulity in the last 24 hours, according to people close to Flynn, who say the former adviser feels Trump has abandoned him and has agreed to answer questions about the president or anyone else.
Flynn was charged with lying to the FBI about the nature of his conversations with then-Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition. Those conversations led Russian officials to temper their response to increased U.S. sanctions, according to the charging documents.
The charge means Flynn could face up to five years in prison.
Flynn became the latest and most-senior Trump associate to face charges in Mueller's probe and arrived at the U.S. District courthouse accompanied by his wife and attorney Robert Kelner after having been processed at the FBI Washington Field Office, where he was fingerprinted and photographed, according to FBI officials.
In court, the retired lieutenant general was asked by Federal Judge Rudolph Contreras if he had ever been a part of similar proceedings, to which Flynn replied that he had not. Contreras then asked Kelner whether he was correct in assuming that Flynn was pleading guilty.
"Yes, your honor," said Kelner.
After the hearing, Flynn was free to go, but has to check in with authorities each week. Sentencing has been put off for now — and the judge noted that Flynn is agreeing to cooperate with authorities in other matters.
Flynn's lawyer meets with members of special counsel's team, raising specter of plea deal
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Flynn had initially resisted cooperating with the investigation, according to people close to the retired general, but he has been facing mounting legal debts and plans to sell his house to help defray costs.
He only recently learned the full scope of the charges he could potentially face. Last week, Trump lawyers received calls from Kelner, alerting them that he could no longer participate in information exchanges with other possible Mueller targets, the first public indication that a plea deal was in the works.
Trump and his legal team have learned of Flynn's decision via news reports Friday morning, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
On Monday, Kelner was spotted exiting a meeting at Mueller’s offices in Washington, ABC News reported.
Flynn is a decorated military officer who once headed the Defense Intelligence Agency and, after leaving government, spoke frequently at Trump campaign rallies. He began facing scrutiny after it was learned he took payment to attend a Russian television event, at which he appeared seated next to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That scrutiny only increased after he took over as Trump’s national security adviser. He was ultimately forced to resign after just a few weeks on the job after it was revealed that he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials about his meeting with the Russian ambassador.
Flynn initially denied that he discussed U.S. sanctions placed on Russia with Kislyak, but transcripts of Flynn and Kislyak’s phone calls reviewed by Justice Department lawyers showed otherwise.
Flynn was paid over $500,000 by foreign clients for consulting work and speaking fees – including contracts he allegedly failed to list on applications for security clearances and financial disclosure forms. He also only belatedly disclosed lobbying work his firm engaged in on behalf of the Turkish government.
Former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn at the White House, Feb. 13, 2017.more +
Trump reportedly attempted to persuade the FBI to drop its investigation into Flynn’s conduct. In a Feb. 14 meeting at the White House, Trump reportedly told then-FBI Director James Comey to “let this go.”
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump told Comey, according to a memo Comey wrote afterwards, which was later described by the New York Times. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
On Oct. 30, two members of Trump's campaign staff, former campaign chair Paul Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates, were indicted on 12 counts brought by Mueller's team related to work done prior to joining the Trump campaign, including conspiracy against the U.S., conspiracy to launder money and serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal.
That same day, it was also revealed that a third Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty earlier in the month to making false statements to FBI agents probing his attempts to arrange a meeting between Russian officials and the campaign.
ABC News' Jack Date, Geneva Sands, Mike Levine, Trish Turner and John Santucci contributed to this report.