Judge's Rebuke of Flynn Prolongs Case 12/19 06:23
A federal judge who described himself as disgusted by Michael Flynn's
behavior upended a straightforward sentencing hearing, postponing punishment
for President Donald Trump's first national security adviser and telling him in
a stinging rebuke, "Arguably you sold your country out."
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal judge who described himself as disgusted by
Michael Flynn's behavior upended a straightforward sentencing hearing,
postponing punishment for President Donald Trump's first national security
adviser and telling him in a stinging rebuke, "Arguably you sold your country
Lawyers for Flynn requested the delay Tuesday after a tongue-lashing from
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan raised the prospect that Flynn could spend
time behind bars for lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts.
Prosecutors hadn't recommended prison, but the hearing that began with the
defendant upbeat and smiling took an unexpected turn when the judge said his
sentence would take into account not just Flynn's extensive cooperation with
investigators but also the lies the Trump administration official told from the
grounds of the White House.
"I can't make any guarantees, but I'm not hiding my disgust, my disdain for
this criminal offense," Sullivan said.
The postponement gave Flynn a chance to continue cooperating with the
government in hopes of staving off prison and proving his value as a witness,
including in a foreign-lobbying prosecution brought this week. The possibility
of prison had seemed remote for Flynn since prosecutors had praised his
cooperation, including 19 meetings with investigators.
But the judge's upbraiding suggested otherwise and made clear that even
defendants like Flynn who have cooperated in special counsel Robert Mueller's
Russia investigation may nonetheless be shadowed by the crimes that brought
them into court in the first place. The hearing upset what had been a carefully
crafted agreement and pushed months into the future a resolution of one of
Mueller's signature prosecutions.
"This is a very serious offense. A high-ranking senior official of the
government making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation while
on the physical premises of the White House," Sullivan said.
He later softened his tone, apologizing for suggesting that Flynn had worked
as a foreign agent while in the White House when that other work had actually
already ended. He also backpedaled on an earlier question on whether Flynn's
transgressions amounted to treason, saying he didn't mean to suggest they did.
Flynn was to have been the first White House official sentenced in Mueller's
investigation into possible coordination between the Trump presidential
campaign and Russia.
The hearing, though incomplete, marked a remarkable fall after a
three-decade military career that included tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and
oversight of the Defense Intelligence Agency during the Obama administration.
Though Flynn served only briefly in Trump's White House, he campaigned for him
and attracted attention for leading a Republican National Convention crowd in a
"Lock Her Up" chant about Hillary Clinton.
The hearing came amid escalating legal peril for Trump, who was implicated
by federal prosecutors in New York this month in hush-money payments involving
his former lawyer to cover up extramarital affairs. Nearly a half-dozen former
aides and advisers have pleaded guilty, agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors.
Some, like Flynn, were tripped up by concealing Russian contacts.
Flynn's help in the probes was especially notable. Yet he's nonetheless
enjoyed Trump's continued sympathy, thanks in part to a sentencing memo last
week that tapped into the president's suspicion of law enforcement and took aim
at the FBI's conduct during the investigation.
Trump tweeted "good luck" to Flynn hours before the sentencing and said
that, "despite tremendous pressure being put on him," there was "no Collusion!"
At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Flynn's
actions had nothing to do with Trump. "It's perfectly acceptable for the
president to make a positive comment about somebody while we wait to see what
the court's determination is," she said.
Sanders repeated her allegation that the FBI "ambushed" Flynn in an
interview in which he lied. Of Trump's earlier FBI criticism, she said, "We
don't have any reason to want to walk that back."
Flynn's legal woes stem from transition-period calls with then-Russian
Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that raised intelligence community alarms even before
Trump took office.
During those conversations, Flynn urged against a strong Russian response to
Obama administration sanctions for Russian election interference and encouraged
Russia's opposition to a U.N. resolution on Israeli settlements. But when FBI
agents approached him in the White House on Jan. 24, 2017, Flynn lied about
those conversations, prosecutors said.
Flynn has never said why he lied, but Sullivan nonetheless castigated him
for a deception that was then parroted by other senior administration officials.
The tone of Tuesday's hearing startled Flynn supporters who hoped his
lawyers' arguments about the FBI's conduct --- they suggested he was
discouraged from having a lawyer present during the interview and wasn't
informed it was a crime to lie --- to resonate more than it did with Sullivan,
who a decade ago tossed out the prosecution of a U.S. senator over government
But while Sullivan tested those arguments, he was ultimately unmoved and
Flynn mostly walked them back. He acknowledged that he indeed knew that lying
to the FBI was a crime. Neither he nor his lawyers disputed that he'd lied to
Flynn attorney Robert Kelner asked Sullivan not to penalize Flynn for the
sentencing memo arguments, saying they were mostly intended to differentiate
Flynn from other defendants in Mueller's investigation who'd received prison
sentences for lying. Though Sullivan said none of the other defendants was a
White House official, Kelner suggested none had been as cooperative.
"He made the decision publicly and clearly and completely and utterly to
cooperate with this investigation, knowing that because of his high rank, that
was going to send a signal to every other potential cooperator and witness in
this investigation," he added.
After a prosecutor raised the prospect of Flynn's continued cooperation with
other investigations in the future, Sullivan warned Flynn that he might not get
full credit for his assistance to the government if he were sentenced as
Sullivan gave a visibly shaken Flynn a chance to discuss delaying the
hearing with his lawyers. The court briefly recessed.
When they returned, Kelner requested a postponement so that Flynn could keep
cooperating. Kelner said he expected Flynn would have to testify in a related
trial in Virginia involving Flynn's former business associates, and the defense
wanted to "eke out the last modicum of cooperation" so he could get credit.
Flynn's lawyers were instructed to submit a status report by March 13. ___
Read the Flynn FBI interview notes: http://apne.ws/xfm8IsO