Former national security adviser Michael Flynn agreed Tuesday to delay his sentencing hearing in order to extend his cooperation with federal investigators.
Flynn, who admitted last December to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia, is the highest-ranking former Trump official facing charges in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The former Army general was the also the first senior Trump official to cooperate in the probe.
The charge: In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI about his contact with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during Trump’s presidential transition period after the 2016 election. In his plea agreement, Flynn agreed to cooperate fully with federal prosecutors in the Russia probe and acknowledged that he could be sentenced to federal prison for up to five years.
Sentencing memos: The special counsel, Flynn’s attorneys and the probation office agreed in separate memos that Flynn should receive a lenient sentence. But Sullivan is not bound by these recommendations, and can impose a sentence of up to five years in federal prison.
- Mueller recommended Flynn receive little to no jail time in exchange for his “substantial assistance” in at least three investigations. Flynn sat for 19 interviews with federal investigators and provided information about contact between the Trump administration transition team and Russian officials.
- Flynn’s attorneys asked for a sentence of up to one year of probation and 200 hours of community service. They argued that Flynn’s long career in the military, acceptance of responsibility for his crime, and cooperation with the Mueller investigation merited leniency.
- Federal sentencing guidelines recommended a sentence of zero to six months in prison.
In court today: Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia told Flynn that he “arguably sold his country out” while working as an unregistered foreign lobbyist, and suggested that Flynn had not yet done enough to avoid prison time. But Sullivan offered Flynn a chance to delay the sentencing in exchange for cooperating further with federal investigators, and Flynn agreed.
Is it unusual to postpone a sentencing hearing? Halting a sentence hearing midway is unusual, but not unheard of, said Jessica Roth, a law professor at Cardozo School of Law and a former federal prosecutor. “Judge Sullivan is a very independent minded judge,” Roth said. “I’m not surprised he came to his own opinion about what would be an appropriate sentence in this case.”
Another chance to cooperate? On Monday, federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia indicted two of Flynn’s former business associates for failing to register as foreign lobbyists on behalf of Turkey. Flynn may have already provided information in this case — Roth said this is likely listed in the redacted section of Mueller’s sentencing addendum — but the delay in his sentencing allows Flynn to provide more assistance to federal prosecutors. “Testifying is significant,” Roth said. “Merely providing information to get an indictment is one thing. It’s even more assistance to prosecutors [to be] a witness.”
What’s next? Sullivan ordered Flynn’s attorneys and federal prosecutors to submit status reports on March 13, 2019. At that point, Sullivan could schedule another court appearance or sentencing date.