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Trump defends Michael Flynn, points finger at Hillary Clinton

President Donald Trump said Monday that he feels "very badly" for Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Image: Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn departs after plea hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn departs U.S. District Court in Washington on Dec. 1.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump defended Michael Flynn on Monday, saying he feels "very badly" for his former national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his dealings with Russia.

Trump pointed a finger at Hillary Clinton, telling reporters — without evidence — that Clinton had lied to the FBI about her use of a private email server while leading the State Department.

"Clinton lied many times to the FBI, nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and they destroyed his life. I think it's a shame," Trump said on the White House South Lawn.

Clinton was interviewed by the FBI during the campaign about her use of a private server while leading the State Department, but Trump offered no proof to support his claim Monday.

FBI Director James Comey, in his testimony to the House Oversight Committee in July 2016, said, "We have no basis to conclude that she lied to the FBI."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who has since left Congress, pushed further, asking, "Did Hillary Clinton lie under oath?"

"Not to the FBI, not to a case we're working," Comey said at the time.

The president also employed this "what-about-Clinton" strategy over the weekend, attacking the FBI as an institution in "tatters" because of the way it investigated his former political rival.

Meanwhile, the president painted Flynn as someone who has "led a very strong life" now ruined by his false statements to the FBI. It's not the first time he's defended the integrity of his former top adviser and longtime supporter, telling NBC's Lester Holt in a May interview that Flynn was "a very good person."

Flynn is the first senior White House official to be charged in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Moscow’s meddling into the 2016 presidential election, and the first to officially agree to cooperate.

Court documents filed Thursday accused Flynn of making two false statements about his interactions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December 2016. It says Flynn falsely claimed that he had not asked Kislyak on Dec. 29 "to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the U.S. had imposed against Russia," and that he didn't recall Kislyak telling him Russia had decided to moderate its response as a result of his request.

Related: Michael Flynn pleads guilty to lying to FBI in Mueller probe

According to the special counsel's charge, Flynn made the false statements to the FBI on Jan. 24, two days after he was sworn in as national security adviser.

Flynn's statement of offense also implicated his former deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, and White House adviser and Trump son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in the transition team's interactions with Russia, sources familiar with the matter confirmed to NBC News.

The White House last week referred questions about Flynn to outside counsel Ty Cobb, who described Flynn as "a former National Security Advisor at the White House for 25 days during the Trump administration, and a former Obama administration official."

"Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn," Cobb said.

CORRECTION (Dec. 4, 1:55 p.m., ET): An earlier version of this article misstated when James Comey, referring to Hillary Clinton, told the House Oversight Committee, "We had no basis to conclude that she lied to the FBI." Comey, the FBI director at the time, testified in July 2016, not in July 2017.