The Odd Unfurling Of The Sentencing Of Michael Flynn
You Would Think If You Were Convicted Of A Federal Crime And The Prosecutor Recommended No Jail Time Because You’d Been So Cooperative, You’d Leave Well Enough Alone. Especially If You Had A Record Of 33-Years Of Distinguished Military Service (Even Though You Also Had A Bit Of A Reputation For Being A Conspiracy Theorist)…
But that’s not what Michael Flynn and his lawyers did. Instead they filed a memo with the court, accusing the F.B.I. of bamboozling Flynn by not warning him that lying to the F.B.I. is a federal crime.
Trump and some of his Fox News “favorites”, picked that up and ran with it, and within a few days it blew up to become “entrapment” and a full-scale F.B.I. “ambush”. Even the increasingly reactionary Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal got in on the action.
And the story got even juicier for Trump and his cohorts when Judge Emmet Sullivan asked for an additional F.B.I. report pertaining to the questioning of Trump’s former National Security Adviser. You can read that report in its entirety here (it’s still heavily redacted). Their story went the judge — whom they defended as above reproach — was going to throw the book at Special Counsel Mueller, causing the whole Russia investigation to crumble.
Trump ally Alan Dershowitz argued on Twitter since the F.B.I. already knew the answers to the questions they were asking Flynn, his lies weren’t material to their investigation. Here’s that Tweet and one from University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck explaining why that’s a bunch of bunk (in reverse chronological order):
That all seems confusing to us. But we know the law sometimes doesn’t make a lot of sense. Still, we have what we think is a much simpler question: without the F.B.I. having knowledge of the facts prior to interviewing Flynn, how were they supposed to know if he was lying?
All those “pre-game” battles aside, it still came as quite a shock to all sides when Judge Sullivan more than harshly reprimanded Flynn. “I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense”, he said. “Arguably, you sold your country out.”
And Judge Sullivan warned Flynn despite prosecutors’ recommendation of no prison time, “I can’t make any guarantees.”
As if to erase any doubt, Sullivan also asked Flynn several times whether he knew he was committing a crime when he lied to the F.B.I., and Flynn said he was “aware”, and reiterated that he was guilty. The judge also offered Flynn the opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea. His response was aptly described by buzzfeednews:
“Flynn told the judge he didn’t want to withdraw his plea and had pleaded guilty because he was, in fact, guilty…”
According to CNN’s Evan Perez, toward the end of the hearing Flynn’s lawyers asked the judge not to punish Flynn for a “filing his lawyers made”, like Flynn didn’t know his lawyers’ strategy coming in.
That’s as far as it went, because Judge Sullivan then offered to postpone sentencing until March to give Flynn more time to prove the full value of his cooperation. Flynn accepted.
Trump’s mind is apparently unchanged. Afterwards, at an increasingly rare media briefing, White House Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders stuck with the story that Flynn was “ambushed” by the F.B.I., perhaps paving the way for a Presidential pardon.
Of course, Flynn entered into an agreement with the Justice Department, which involved pleading to the lesser of many possible charges against him, in exchange for his cooperation. In this case, lying to the F.B.I., a crime that according to federal sentencing guidelines typically carries a penalty of about 6 months imprisonment.
And before we let this go, one very bizarre final twist: a revelation in the newly-released Flynn interview document where he refers to the death of the Director of Russian Military Intelligence, Igor Sergun, “in Lebanon”. Flynn spoke about having forged a bond with Sergun over war stories. However, a story published late yesterday by Russia’s Tass news agency insists Sergun died of a heart attack while at a spa in Russia, and that any reports of the “Hero of Russia” dying in Lebanon are “conspiracy nonsense”. We don’t know why Russia’s so upset about this part of the statement, but they are. Very.
So after a day of unexpected and weird revelations, more may be yet to come…