The White House on Tuesday struggled to explain President Trump’s continued support of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI, and his castigations of longtime attorney Michael Cohen, who was recently sentenced to three years in jail and whom Trump referred to in a recent tweet as a “rat.”
Flynn, a former Trump campaign surrogate, admitted last year he had lied to federal investigators about his contacts with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to reverse several sanctions against the country, and has been cooperating with Mueller ever since. He struck a plea deal with the special counsel’s office in December 2017.
Flynn’s sentencing was set for Tuesday, but was delayed after the judge overseeing the hearing requested more time to examine lingering questions regarding the impact of Flynn’s lies on the ongoing Russia investigation.
Cohen, long considered Trump’s “fixer,” pleaded guilty earlier this year to several bank fraud and tax evasion charges, as well as multiple campaign finance violations related to hush money payments he made, ahead of the 2016 election, to women who claim to have had affairs with Trump. He also pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his and Trump’s involvement in an abandoned Trump Tower Moscow project.
Cohen, too, struck a deal with prosecutors from the Southern District of New York and Mueller’s office, offering to provide them information in exchange for a lesser punishment.
Trump has repeatedly defended Flynn, blaming Mueller for “destroying” his life. By contrast, he has criticized Cohen, slamming him for working with Mueller and calling him a “rat” in a recent tweet.
At Tuesday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to square those two realities. Sanders instead opted to dodge questions about the two men, saying it was up to the court to determine Flynn’s character.
“We wish General Flynn well and will continue to focus on doing what we do here every single day,” she said. She then doubled down on a claim she’d made Tuesday morning on Fox News, saying Flynn had been “ambushed” by the FBI and allegedly forced to answer questions without his lawyer.
The questions then turned to Trump’s varying treatments of Flynn and Cohen. Asked whether it was fair to defend Flynn and wish him “good luck” ahead of his sentencing while criticizing Cohen, Sanders demurred, saying simply, “We know Michael Cohen to be a liar.”
She did not mention that Flynn had openly accepted responsibility for lying to the FBI only hours earlier.
Sanders then made a telling admission. Flynn’s activities, she argued, “don’t have anything to do with the president.”
She added, “It’s perfectly acceptable for the president to make a positive comment about somebody while we wait to see what the court’s determination is.”
Cohen’s cooperation with the Mueller probe notably has serious implications for the president, who was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a felony — the campaign finance violations — by both Cohen and the Southern District of New York.
According to Flynn’s sentencing memo, released earlier this month, it’s possible Trump may be implicated in further legal issues. The memo, which was heavily redacted, appeared to outline at least three ongoing investigations under Mueller’s office — two of which are currently unknown to the public.