In a dramatic sentencing hearing Tuesday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted a delay in sentencing former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, in the latest development in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe into Russian interference into the 2016 election. The offer to delay Flynn’s sentencing capped off a day in which Sullivan struggled to mask his disdain for the defendant. Flynn’s next scheduled court appearance will be in March.
Last December, Flynn — an early ally to Trump’s presidential campaign and a key figure in his subsequent presidential transition team — pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about his interactions with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the agency’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
During Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Judge Sullivan was unsparing in his treatment and assessment of the defendant, going to great pains to ensure that Flynn openly admitted to and owned his guilt in an effort make it as clear as possible that he’d pleaded guilty of his own volition and not because he had been coerced to do so.
Judge Sullivan giving Flynn one final shot to withdraw his guilty plea. Judge asks if he wants to proceed.
FLYNN: “I would like to proceed.”
Because you’re guilty?
FLYNN: “Yes, your honor.”
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) December 18, 2018
Sullivan carefully read the six-page charging sheet aloud, reminding Flynn that his crime, “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” was a “very serious offense.”
Sullivan would repeatedly underscore these sentiments. “I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense,” he admonished. “Arguably, you sold your country out.”
“All along, you were an unregistered agent of a foreign country while serving as the national security adviser to the President of the United States,” the judge tells Mike Flynn. "That undermines everything this flag over here stands for. Arguably, you sold your country out."
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) December 18, 2018
Sullivan asked prosecutors whether or not Flynn might continue to cooperate with the Mueller probe, to which the attorneys affirmed that it remained a possibility. He went on to ask if Flynn could have been charged with treason. Prosecutors demurred on answering that inquiry, and Sullivan granted Flynn a recess at 12:30 — the implication being that he’d not yet ruled out the possibility of incarceration, but he’d prefer that Flynn have the opportunity to speak with his lawyers.
Upon their return from recess, Sullivan referred back to his question about treason, urging those present, “Don’t read too much into the questions I asked.” He then granted the delay.
In their request for a delay in sentencing, Flynn’s defense team sought to “eke out the last modicum of cooperation” from their client. While Flynn’s attorneys noted that his avenues for cooperating with the Mueller investigation have all been exhausted, Flynn’s cooperation would likely be welcomed in another case, in which former Flynn business associates Bijan Kian and Kamil Ekim Alptekin have been charged with conspiracy and acting as agents of a foreign government in an illegal scheme to lobby the government for the extradition of political dissident Fethullah Gulen, who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for a failed 2016 coup attempt.
Prosecutors agreed to the sentencing delay.
Flynn’s legal woes stem from a series of contacts with Ambassador Kislyak that began in late December of 2016. Flynn, allegedly acting at the behest of Jared Kushner at the time, asked Kislyak to see to it that Russia defeated a UN Security Council resolution which demanded Israel cease all settlement activity in Palestinian territories. Later, after the Obama administration announced a new round of sanctions against Russia in retaliation for their alleged interference in the election, Flynn reached out again to Kislyak and asked him to “refrain from escalating the situation in response” to the sanctions, in return for a promise of relief from those sanctions once Trump had taken office.
It is alleged that Flynn was in constant communication with various members of the Trump White House during this time, providing details of these tête-à-têtes. But incoming Vice President Mike Pence, during an interview on CBS’s Sunday morning show, “Face The Nation,” insisted that no conversations about sanctions relief took place, and that Flynn’s contacts with Russian officials were nothing more than standard diplomatic entreaties that any incoming national security adviser might make as a part of their transition duties.
Nevertheless, on January 24, Flynn would be interviewed by the FBI about his contacts with Kislyak. He would later admit to having lied to investigators during these conversations.
On February 9, the Washington Post reported that Flynn had, in fact, discussed the sanctions with Kislyak, according to several sources familiar with the situation. The immediate fallout of this story quickly gravitated around Pence: It was from this news report that the Vice President first learned that Flynn had not been truthful in briefing him about these contacts prior to his fateful “Face The Nation” appearance. A subsequent story from the Post, four days later, reported that the White House had been aware that Flynn misled them about his contacts with Russian officials, weeks prior to Pence’s television interview. Flynn resigned from his post that same day.
In December of last year, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and went on to become the first major figure in the Trump administration to agree to cooperate with Robert Mueller’s probe. As the New York Times reported at the time, at stake for the White House was the potential undercutting of “claims made in January by Mr. Trump and his aides that they were misled by Mr. Flynn about his discussion with Russians regarding sanctions imposed on Moscow by the Obama administration over the election interference.”
The New York Times went on to report that Flynn “promised to provide prosecutors with information on ‘any and all matters’,” and he ended up sitting with Mueller’s investigators for 19 separate meetings spanning more than 60 hours.
In a Tuesday morning tweet, President Donald Trump wished Flynn to have “good luck today in court.”
[This post has been updated.]