On Tuesday, Michael Flynn may be the first defendant in Robert Mueller’s probe to receive his sentence and walk out of court with no jail time.
He’d still be one of the most high-profile people convicted so far among Mueller’s cases.
Flynn, who served as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser for less than a month at the start of the administration, pleaded guilty a year ago to lying to federal investigators. Since then, he’s cooperated extensively with Mueller and at least one other Justice Department unit in ongoing investigations. That cooperation led other “related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming with (Mueller) and cooperate,” prosecutors have said.
The ordeal for Flynn has given Mueller a key witness on some of the most scrutinized moments during the Trump campaign, transition and first month in the White House — while also turning the former Army lieutenant general into a political cause backed by conservatives wary of Mueller’s approach.
Trump himself wished Flynn “good luck” in a Tuesday morning tweet, adding that it “will be interesting to see what he has to say.”
Despite Flynn’s admissions that he lied about three things — including policy requests he made to then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition — Mueller’s team has asked the judge to sentence Flynn to minimal or even no time. Flynn likely faces zero to six months of prison, and his sentence will be decided solely by federal Judge Emmet Sullivan, who has overseen his case.
Flynn’s sentencing hearing Tuesday begins at 11 a.m. ET.
Three previous defendants in Mueller’s probe — Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, the Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos — pleaded guilty to the same crime of lying. Each received sentences that included prison time. But none of those men helped investigators as broadly, willingly or sincerely as Flynn, Mueller’s team has said.
Another defendant, former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates, also pleaded guilty to a lying charge in Mueller’s probe. He continues to cooperate with the investigation and has no set sentencing date.
Flynn’s sentencing has been shaded over the past three weeks by criticism of the FBI’s actions when it first approached him in the White House on January 24, 2017.
Flynn’s defense team first raised the issue in a memo to the judge last week. The defense lawyers argued that Flynn should be spared jail time because he had lied under different circumstances than van der Zwaan and Papadopoulos, who had been warned they could be prosecuted for lying to the FBI.
Flynn spoke to the FBI agents with no lawyer present and hadn’t been warned of the potential legal consequences. He also did not involve the White House counsel’s office, and the FBI did not involve the Justice Department in his interview.
Flynn was so relaxed, investigators said, that they did not have the impression that he was lying during the interview, according to memos from the agents. Even so, the FBI knew that when Flynn said he hadn’t asked for certain responses from Kislyak to the American sanctions against Russia or a United Nations Security Council resolution, he was lying.
Another FBI memo about the January 24, 2017, interview, released Monday night, further solidified that Flynn wrongly denied he had tried to influence the Russian government’s reaction to sanctions and intentions at the UN.
Flynn first met Kislyak in 2013 while director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and he had developed the relationship with the Russian government since then. Court documents made public last year show that members of Trump’s transition team knew about Flynn’s requests to the ambassador a month before the inauguration.
Flynn is also central to the potential obstruction of justice case surrounding Trump’s interactions with former FBI Director James Comey. According to a memo Comey wrote in February 2017, the President asked him to drop the investigation into Flynn.
Mueller’s team has described on multiple occasions how Flynn misled members of the Trump administration about his contacts with Kislyak, which then prompted those public officials to share false information with the American public.
Aside from Flynn’s conversations with the Russian, he admitted to lying about his lobbying work for the Turkish government as it sought to build American support for the extradition of a cleric and political opponent living in Pennsylvania.
Flynn’s two former business associates were indicted by the Justice Department on Monday for working on this project, which included Flynn authoring an op-ed in a Washington newspaper that sympathized with the current Turkish government and demonized the cleric. The op-ed published on Election Day 2016. The former business associates also accepted payments for the work through Flynn’s company, the Flynn Intel Group, according to the charging document.
One of the men, Flynn Intel Group co-founder Bijan Rafiekian, also known as Bijan Kian, will appear in a Virginia federal court around the same time Flynn visits the DC federal courthouse for his sentencing.
Kian is charged with conspiracy and illegally acting as a foreign agent in the US.
The other defendant in the case, a Dutch-Turkish businessman, is charged with the same two crimes plus lying to the FBI. The businessman, Kamil Ekim Alptekin, lives in Istanbul and has not appeared in US court.