Judge slams Flynn for 'arguably' selling out US
A federal judge abruptly postponed the sentencing hearing yesterday for Michael Flynn, US President Donald Trump's first national security adviser, after a stunning hearing in which the judge accused Flynn of selling out his country.
The delay allows Flynn to continue co-operating with the special counsel's Russia probe and get credit for it in his punishment. Flynn pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts, just days after Mr Trump was inaugurated.
"Arguably, you sold your country out," US District Judge Emmet Sullivan told Flynn in a tongue-lashing that raised the prospect that the judge could send the retired army lieutenant general to prison, even though prosecutors have recommended against prison time, citing his co-operation in the Russia probe.
Judge Sullivan told Flynn: "I can't hide my disgust, my disdain" at the crime.
After a prosecutor raised the prospect of Flynn's continued co-operation with other investigations in the future, Judge Sullivan warned Flynn that he might not get the full credit for his assistance to the government if he were sentenced as scheduled yesterday. Typically, judges like to sentence co-operating defendants after their co-operation is done so they can fully evaluate the help they gave to the government.
He gave Flynn a chance to talk it over with his lawyers, and the court went into a brief recess. When they returned, Flynn lawyer Rob Kelner defended Flynn's co-operation, but he requested a postponement to allow for him to keep co-operating.
Flynn, who served as national security adviser for only a few weeks, was to be the first White House official sentenced in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible co-ordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Nearly half a dozen former aides and advisers - including Flynn - have pleaded guilty or agreed to co-operate with prosecutors.
Mr Trump signalled his intense interest in the case by tweeting "good luck" to Flynn hours before the sentencing hearing. He added: "Will be interesting to see what he has to say, despite tremendous pressure being put on him, about Russian Collusion in our great and, obviously, highly successful political campaign. There was no Collusion!"
At the hearing, Judge Sullivan told Flynn that he would take into account his extensive co-operation with the government, which includes 19 meetings with investigators as well as a 33-year military career that included service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But he also said he was forced to weigh other factors, too, including Flynn's decision as national security adviser to lie to the FBI on the premises of the White House about contacts he had with the Russian ambassador to the US.
Earlier in the hearing, the judge asked Flynn a series of questions to make sure he wanted to move forward with his sentencing in light of a memo his attorneys submitted last week that took aim at the FBI's conduct during agents' January 2017 interview of Flynn. Flynn said that memo notwithstanding, he was ready to proceed with sentencing.
The run-up to the sentencing hearing has exposed raw tensions over an FBI interview in which he lied about his Russian contacts.
Flynn's lawyers have suggested investigators discouraged him from having an attorney present during the interview and never informed him it was a crime to lie. Prosecutors shot back, "He does not need to be warned it is a crime to lie to federal agents, to know the importance of telling them the truth."
On Monday evening, the dispute - and a judge's intervention - led prosecutors to publicly file a redacted copy of the notes from Flynn's FBI interview that largely bolster the case, showing he told agents things he later said were false.
Still, the mere insinuation of underhanded tactics has been startling given the seemingly productive relationship between the two sides, and it was especially striking since prosecutors with Mr Mueller's office have praised Flynn's co-operation and recommended against prison time.
The defence arguments spurred speculation that Flynn may be trying to get sympathy from Mr Trump or may be playing to a judge known for a zero-tolerance view of government misconduct.
"It's an attempt, I think, to perhaps characterise Flynn as a victim or perhaps to make him look sympathetic in the eyes of a judge - and, at the same time, to portray the special counsel in a negative light," said former federal prosecutor Jimmy Gurule, a University of Notre Dame law school professor.