More than a year after he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and cooperated extensively with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, former Trump National Security Advisor and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn appeared in a courtroom to learn the sentence for his crime. Along the way, Flynn was actually given multiple opportunities to challenge the circumstances of the FBI interview that got him busted.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, the day after ordering the release of the FBI’s notes on the Jan. 24, 2017 Flynn interview, revealed that he was actually “concerned” about the circumstances of the interview, circumstances Flynn’s lawyers complained about in a pre-sentencing memorandum. Sullivan said that there were “issues that may call into question [Flynn’s] guilty plea.” Sullivan, for example, wondered how these quibbles from Flynn’s side were consistent with his acceptance of responsibility.
“My question is, how is raising those contentions about the circumstances consistent with his acceptance of responsibility?” Sullivan asked.
Flynn’s defense attorney Robert Kelner replied that Flynn “fully accepts responsibility,” “stands by his guilty plea,” and said the circumstances complaint was something he thought the judge “might want to see” for sentencing purposes. Judging by the judge’s remarks today, Kelner was right about that.
Sullivan gave Flynn an opportunity to challenge the circumstances and Flynn said “No.”
This wasn’t the only time Sullivan expressed his concern. He referred to the FBI documents as “puzzling.”
Saying he’s “puzzled” by the documents he’s seen, Sullivan makes it explicitly clear he was concerned by the circumstances of the FBI interview, but Flynn and his attorneys are *repeatedly* declining the judge’s offers to delay or steer the proceeding off course.
— Steven Portnoy (@stevenportnoy) December 18, 2018
When you consider that Sullivan is a judge who cares deeply about prosecutorial misconduct and was open to letting Flynn mount a challenge, you have little choice but to conclude that Flynn was given every opportunity to assert his innocence and did not.
Mueller actually said something similar after Flynn’s attorneys brought up this issue in the first place, that Flynn was given the chance to change his statements from lies to the truth.
He said Flynn “chose to make false statements about his communications with the Russian ambassador (Kislyak) weeks before the FBI interview, when he lied about that topic to the media, the incoming Vice President, and other members of the Presidential Transition Team.”
“When faced with the FBI’s questions on January 24, during an interview that was voluntary and cordial, the defendant repeated the same false statements. The Court should reject the defendant’s attempt to minimize the seriousness of those false statements to the FBI,” Mueller said. “The circumstances of the defendant’s interview also show that his decision to make false statements was voluntary and intentional.”
The special counsel also said FBI agents gave Flynn “multiple opportunities to correct his false statements by revisiting key questions.”
“When the defendant said he did not remember something they knew he said, they used the exact words the defendant had used in order to prompt a truthful response,” Mueller added. “But the defendant never corrected his false statements. The interview was voluntary, and lacked any indicia of coercion.”
Judge Sullivan has accepted Flynn’s guilty plea. All that’s left now is the sentence. Team Flynn asked for no jail time, while Mueller said he would be fine with no jail time.
In the end, Sullivan said that Flynn’s crime was a “very serious one,” and slammed him for “selling out” America.
“You were an unregistered agent of a foreign country while serving as the National Security Advisor to the president!” he said. “Arguably, this undermines everything this flag over here stands for! Arguably, you sold your country out!”
“I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain, for this criminal offense,” Sullivan added. He also warned of prison time.
UPDATE: After a brief recess, Flynn’s sentencing has been postponed. A status hearing has been set for March 13.
[Image via George Frey/Getty Images]
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