Michael Flynn’s sentencing hearing ended this morning without Flynn receiving a sentence. Judge Emmet Sullivan seemed inclined to sentence Flynn to jail time, notwithstanding the recommendation of the prosecutors that Flynn serve none. However, Sullivan agreed to hold off until he has time to consider the matter of Flynn’s lobbying for the Turkish government.
As to charges of lying to the FBI, Flynn affirmed that he stands by his guilty plea. He admitted the offense and confirmed that he knew lying to the FBI is a crime.
Judge Sullivan chastised Flynn for the crime. Here is the Washington Post’s account:
“This is a very serious offense — a high-ranking senior official of the government, making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation while on the physical premises of the White House,” Sullivan said, emphasizing every word.
But Sullivan added that “the court will also consider [Flynn’s] substantial assistance in several investigations.”
Lying to the FBI is a serious offense. And given Flynn’s guilty plea, the court had no basis for doubting that Flynn did lie.
As I read accounts of the hearing, however, the real sticking point for Sullivan seems to be the matter of Flynn’s lobbying for Turkey. He accused Flynn of acting as “an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the national security adviser to the president of the United States.” The Post reports:
After reviewing some of the allegations against Flynn, including that he worked to advance the interests of the Turkish government in the United States during the 2016 presidential campaign, the judge pointed to an American flag behind him in the courtroom and said heatedly, “Arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for. Arguably you sold your country out.”
Judge Sullivan then asked prosecutors whether Flynn could be accused of “treason.” The lead prosecutor in the case said he had “no reason to believe that Mr. Flynn committed treason . . . and no concerns over issues related to treason.”
Judge Sullivan later walked back the “treason” comment as well as the allegation that Flynn served Turkey’s interest while working as national security adviser. Sullivan had confused the dates of Flynn’s lobbying efforts — an inexcusable error if you’re going to throw the word “treason” at anyone, and certainly at someone who has served his country as magnificently as Flynn has.
In the end, Judge Sullivan asked Flynn whether he wanted to be sentenced today, given that he might receive jail time if Sullivan does so. Naturally, Flynn said he prefers a delay.
The delay will give Flynn more time to cooperate with prosecutors on the matter of lobbying for Turkey. Such cooperation presumably will improve the prospect of leniency.
The Turkish angle, though it has flown under the radar, was always present. Indeed, Flynn admitted in his plea deal that he had lied about his business dealings with the Turkish government.
Readers of the Washington Post were greeted this morning with a front-page story about how Michael Flynn’s business associates have been charged with illegally lobbying for Turkey. Is it just a coincidence that federal prosecutors unsealed this indictment on the eve of Flynn’s sentencing hearing?
Meanwhile, in a morning tweet, President Trump wished Flynn good luck in court. Flynn’s luck, as we have seen, ran the other way.
However, Trump retains the power to pardon Flynn, who, in my view, was entrapped by an FBI hostile both to Flynn and to Trump. Trump also has the lesser power to commute any jail sentence Judge Sullivan decides to impose. Given the prosecutors’ recommendation of no jail time as well as Flynn’s service to America, Trump should, at a minimum, do that much.