Judge Quickly Backtracks, Apologizes After Floating Crazy Idea Michael Flynn Committed Treason

Michael Flynn joint status report

Judge Emmet Sullivan came down pretty hard on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn during his sentencing hearing on Tuesday. First, Sullivan blasted Flynn in court, particularly for acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Turkey, saying, “Arguably, you sold your country out.”

Strong words, but nothing compared to what came next. Addressing Flynn’s admitted lies about communications with the Russian ambassador, Sullivan asked a prosecutor with the Special Counsel’s Office whether they considered charging Flynn with treason.

Attorney Brandon Van Grack said no, they had not considered that. Not surprising, considering that it would have been totally off base, as legal Twitter swiftly pointed out.

Here’s what the federal statute for treason says:

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

Lying about talking to the Russian ambassador is certainly not the same as levying war or adhering to an enemy, and the substance of Flynn’s conversations weren’t either. They spoke about U.S. sanctions against Russia and a UN resolution involving Israel.

The judge was quick to retreat on this line of thinking.

It seems that the judge may have been inspired by a misunderstanding of Flynn’s contacts with Turkey, which Flynn had also lied about. Sullivan said that Flynn had acted “an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the national security adviser to the president of the United States.”

A member of Mueller’s team had to point out that this was not the case, and that Flynn had stopped dealing with Turkey before he took office.

It basically came off as an unconvincing cover for a misguided question.

[Image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

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