Politics

President Trump wishes confessed felon Michael Flynn 'good luck,' as ex-national security advisor heads to sentencing

Key Points
  • President Trump's former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, faces sentencing Tuesday by a federal judge.
  • Flynn admitted to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russia's ambassador after Trump's election in 2016.
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller has recommended leniency for the retired Army lieutenant general.
  • Trump tweets "good luck" to Flynn early Tuesday.
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Judge postpones Michael Flynn's sentencing, says he 'sold his country out'

President Donald Trump wished his first national security advisor Michael Flynn "good luck" Tuesday, hours before the disgraced lieutentant general was due to be sentenced for lying to the FBI about his post-election talks with Russia's ambassador.

Trump's best wishes for Flynn came with yet another claim by the president that his campaign did not collude with Russian agents in their widespread efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election that sent Trump to the White House.

Flynn already was expected Tuesday to have some good luck even before Trump's tweet in support of him, and even despite a recent dispute with special counsel Robert Mueller.

There is good reason to believe that Flynn will get a light punishment in U.S. District Court in Washington.

More than a year after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and agreeing to cooperate with Mueller's investigation, Flynn and his lawyers will make their final pitch Tuesday morning to keep the retired Army officer out of jail.

In a presentence memo filed to Judge Emmet Sullivan, Flynn's lawyers requested he get just one year's probation with minimal supervision, along with 200 hours of community service.

Mueller, in his own memo, also asked the judge for leniency.

Federal sentencing guidelines suggest Flynn's crime warrants from zero to six months incarceration.

But the special counsel said that "the low end" of that range — and possibly no time locked up at all — would be "appropriate and warranted."

Mueller pointedly cited Flynn's help with uncovering contacts between Trump's presidential transition team and Russian government officials.

Flynn, 60, "provided firsthand information about the content and context of" such interactions, the memo said.

That document highlighted the value of Flynn's information to Mueller, who is continuing to investigate Russia's election interference, and potential collusion between Trump campaign associates and the Kremlin.

Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about the nature of his discussions with Sergey Kislyak, who was Russia's ambassador to the U.S., during the presidential transition period following the November 2016 election.

Flynn allegedly repeated those lies to Vice President Mike Pence and other officials, and after only 24 days as Trump's national security advisor, Flynn resigned. He began cooperating with law enforcement officials even before pleading guilty in December 2017 to one count of making false statements, according to the court documents.

Overall, Flynn had 19 meetings with Mueller's team and other officials totaling nearly 63 hours, according to court filings.

The Mueller-Flynn dispute

But even as Mueller's and Flynn's legal teams gave similar recommendations for his sentence, a schism appeared last week.

Defense lawyers wrote in their memo that although Flynn "does not take issue with" the government's framing of his crime, the "circumstances" of the January 24, 2017, interview in which he lied to the FBI are "relevant to the Court's consideration of a just punishment." That interview occurred two days after Flynn was sworn in as national security advisor.

For example, the defense lawyers wrote, Flynn was interviewed without an attorney present and was not provided in advance "with a warning of the penalties" for lying to the FBI.

Flynn's defense team quoted former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who said that he told Flynn at the time: "I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [General Flynn] and the agents only. I further stated that if [Flynn] wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House Counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice."

After the defense memo was filed, the judge ordered Mueller to submit documents related to Flynn's interview with the FBI. That order bred speculation that Sullivan was concerned about the circumstances surrounding that fateful interview.

But Mueller, in a response filed Friday, defended the investigators' actions and urged Sullivan to "reject the defendant's attempt to minimize the seriousness of those false statements to the FBI."

The special counsel said that "nothing about the way the interview was arranged or conducted caused the defendant to make false statements to the FBI."

Flynn, whose military career spanned more than three decades, "undoubtedly was aware ... that lying to the FBI carries serious consequences," Mueller wrote.

Flynn's work for Turkey

In his sentencing memo, Mueller noted that Flynn also lied to the FBI in March 2017 about work he and his consulting firm did "for the principal benefit of the Republic of Turkey," which began shortly after a botched coup attempt in that country in 2016.

That work included writing an op-ed in The Hill calling for the extradition from the United States of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey's president, Recep Erdogan, had blamed for the coup attempt. Gulen denies orchestrating the attempted takeover.

On Monday, two of Flynn's former associates were indicted on conspiracy charges related to their efforts to smear Gulen.

Bijan Kian, 66, and Turkish national Kamil Alptekin, 41, were charged in federal court in eastern Virginia. Alptekin was also hit with four counts of lying to the FBI.

Despite his recent disagreement with Mueller, Flynn appeared poised to benefit more from cooperating with the special counsel than two other key figures in Trump's orbit.

Other prominent Trump figures in trouble

Last week, former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to what a federal judge called "a veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct."

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Cohen admitted violating tax and campaign finance laws in a case lodged by federal prosecutors in New York. Cohen also admitted lying to Congress about an aborted Trump real estate deal in Moscow.

At Cohen's sentencing, Mueller's team said Cohen went "to significant lengths to assist the special counsel's investigation." But the New York prosecutors complained that Trump's former fixer "didn't come anywhere close to assisting this office in an investigation."

Mueller ultimately recommended that any prison time Cohen received for lying to Congress be served concurrently with the term for the charges brought by New York federal prosecutors — which is what happened. A judge sentenced Cohen to two months in prison for charges lodged by Mueller.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who had agreed to cooperate with Mueller's team in a plea deal struck in September, was accused in late November of breaching the terms of his agreement by lying to investigators.

Mueller as a result has said the deal is now void. The special counsel could seek to charge Manafort with lying to Mueller's team and could seek to retry him on charges that a jury failed to reach a verdict on last summer.