Judge delays Flynn sentencing after sharply criticizing former Trump aide

President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn on Tuesday requested to postpone his sentencing for lying to FBI agents about his contacts with a Russian ambassador until his cooperation with federal prosecutors is fully complete. 

The surprise decision by Flynn’s defense attorneys came after U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan admonished Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, for committing a “serious offense” by lying to the FBI about his discussions with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions on Moscow while serving in a high-level role at the White House.

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“This is a very serious offense,” Sullivan said in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. “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 also asked Flynn and his counsel whether they would want to delay the sentencing, seemingly hinting that Flynn would face a tough sentence if the decision had gone through Tuesday.

He noted that he would take Flynn’s public service and cooperation with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE’s investigation into account but would also weigh heavily the gravity of his offense. 

Flynn was prepared to accept responsibility for his crime and be sentenced on Tuesday. But after a nail-biting recess, his attorneys took Sullivan up on the postponement offer, citing foreign lobbying charges unveiled Monday against Flynn’s former business associate and noting it was likely he would testify at an upcoming trial in that case.

“There’s that additional modicum of cooperation that he expects to provide in the [Eastern District of Virginia],” Robert Kelner, one of Flynn’s attorneys, told Sullivan. “For that reason, we are prepared to take your honor up on the suggestion to delaying sentencing.”

Sullivan agreed to the delay and has directed the parties to file a status report on March 13.

Flynn was in court to be sentenced on one count of false statements to the FBI, a charge he pleaded guilty to one year ago as part of a deal to cooperate in Mueller’s sprawling Russia investigation. Flynn is facing minimal prison time; federal sentencing guidelines call for him to face between zero to six months in prison and a fine of $5,000 to $9,500.

Mueller has recommended a lenient sentence for Flynn — saying a sentence with no jail time would be appropriate — citing his “substantial assistance” in the investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated with Moscow to interfere in the election.

Flynn’s sentencing was expected to be a key milestone in the Mueller investigation, coming one year after he pleaded guilty. Mueller’s team had repeatedly requested delays in his sentencing before asking Sullivan in September to schedule it, a signal that government prosecutors believed they had gleaned all the information they could from the onetime Trump campaign surrogate.

Flynn is said to have provided valuable “firsthand” information to Mueller on various subjects, such as contacts between members of the Trump transition team and the Russian government, and has also assisted the Justice Department on other investigations.

Brandon Van Grack, one of Mueller’s prosecutors, said Tuesday it “remains a possibility” that Flynn’s cooperation in the Russia investigation is not fully complete, but noted the government decided to move to sentencing because the “substantial assistance” condition had been met and the “vast majority” of cooperation realized.

“Gen. Flynn has held nothing back — nothing — in his extensive cooperation with the special counsel’s office,” Kelner said before announcing he would ask that the sentencing be postponed.

The hearing capped a week of high drama surrounding Flynn’s case, after his attorneys suggested in a filing last week Flynn had been wronged by the FBI agents who interviewed him, noting they did not warn him it was a crime to lie to the FBI and that the interview was conducted without White House counsel present.

The developments fed a theory among conservatives that Flynn had been entrapped by the bureau and unfairly entangled in Mueller’s probe.

Sullivan said Tuesday the filing had concerned him because Flynn “raised issues that may affect or call into question his guilty plea, at the very least his acceptance of his guilty plea.”

Flynn’s attorneys explained they did not believe Flynn had been entrapped by the bureau but chose to include details about his interview so that the judge could compare Flynn’s case to others who have been charged and sentenced for the same crime in connection with Mueller’s investigation, arguing Flynn deserved a lesser sentence.

“This case is in a category by itself right now,” Sullivan said.

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Sullivan delivered a blistering rebuke of Flynn during Tuesday’s hearing. Referring to revelations about Flynn’s undisclosed lobbying for the Turkish government, Sullivan suggested he had been working as an unregistered agent for a foreign government while in the White House and had “sold” his country out — a remark he was later forced to walk back. 

“I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain, for this criminal offense,” Sullivan said.

At one point, Sullivan also asked Mueller’s prosecutors whether Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador rose to the level of treasonous activity. He later clarified he was not suggesting that Flynn committed treason.

Flynn’s service as Trump’s national security adviser was short lived, lasting just weeks before he was forced to resign in February 2017 over revelations he misled Vice President Pence about his conversations with Kislyak.

Months later, Flynn admitted to lying during his Jan. 24, 2017, interview with the FBI when he claimed not to have spoken to Kislyak about sanctions levied on Moscow for Russian interference the month prior.

The news out of the proceedings was closely watched at the White House. President Trump tweeted “good luck” to his former national security adviser earlier Tuesday and suggested he had been under pressure from Mueller to deliver details on “collusion” between his campaign and Russia, which the president denies.

When asked to react to the developments later Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders asserted Flynn’s crime “doesn’t have anything to do with the president directly.” She also accused the FBI of ambushing Flynn.

It remains unclear when the special counsel’s probe will wrap up. 

Trump, meanwhile, has continued to launch broadsides against Mueller for running what he claims is an illegal and partisan “witch hunt.” 

The investigation has ensnared multiple Trump associates in addition to Flynn. They include Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDOJ backs ex-Trump campaign aide Richard Gates's probation request Former FBI general counsel wants apology from Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today MORE, Trump’s former campaign chairman who was found guilty for a series of crimes arising from his foreign lobbying activity, and Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney who was sentenced to three years for campaign finance, false statements and other charges last week.