As you know, if you’ve been reading Political Animal, I’ve been trying to debunk the right-wing talking points suggesting that Michael Flynn was wrongly prosecuted for more than a year. I’ve written more pieces about Michael Flynn than anyone involved in the Russia case, with the possible exception of Paul Manafort. So, I took great satisfaction on Tuesday when U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan absolutely raked Flynn over the coals during his sentencing hearing.
In particular, Judge Sullivan took strong exception to the exact thing I have been complaining about, which is the suggestion that Flynn was somehow set up by the FBI and should never have been charged with lying to its agents. What caused this backlash was a highly questionable decision by Flynn’s lawyers to inject right-wing talking points into their filing asking for leniency. It was a wholly unnecessary move. Based on Flynn’s extensive cooperation with the Office of Special Counsel, his lack of prior offenses, and his decades of (mostly) distinguished military service, the OSC was recommending no jail time. Based on the sentencing guidelines, which called for a term of incarceration of 0-6 months, there was a very real prospect that Flynn would pay a fine, do some community service and get a period of supervised probation, but otherwise walk away unscathed.
In an indication of how divorced the Republicans have become from reality, several right-wing media outlets spent Monday evening speculating that Judge Sullivan might even throw out Flynn’s guilty plea entirely because he would ultimately agree that Flynn had been entrapped. That did not happen.
Instead, Sullivan tore into Flynn and his lawyers. He almost bizarrely put Flynn under oath before demanding that he admit his guilt and deny all the right-wing talking points which have recently been repeated by the president himself. He forced Flynn to admit that he knew he was wrong to lie to the FBI and that there had been no misconduct in how his interviews were conducted. He acknowledged that any possible wrongdoing then-Deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and counterintelligence official Peter Strzok may have committed in other areas had no bearing on his responsibility to be truthful to federal agents.
Judge Sullivan openly questioned whether Flynn could have been charged with treason for operating as an undeclared agent of a foreign power while serving as National Security Advisor, suggested that Flynn had dishonored the flag that was displayed in the courtroom, and said “arguably you sold your country out.”
He also asked Flynn’s lawyers how their filing was consistent with the client taking responsibility for his actions and advised them that they might want to delay sentencing since he was not inclined to let Flynn avoid incarceration.
After a request for a recess was granted to Flynn’s team, they came back and agreed to a ninety-day delay in sentencing. It appears that Sullivan was concerned that Flynn might not have fulfilled his obligation to cooperate or might cease his cooperation once sentenced. He questioned the prosecutors on this point and was told that is was “possible” that Flynn might not be done cooperating. In any case, he clearly wasn’t satisfied that Flynn had done enough.
Of course, what’s so strange about this is that the Office of Special Counsel was prepared to see Flynn get off with probation today and was not requesting anything from the judge. They had expressed their clear displeasure with the filing Flynn’s lawyers submitted, but they had not tried to back out of the deal or backtrack on their recommendation of no jail time.
It seems to me that Flynn’s lawyers did a bad disservice to their client by trying to help President Trump. Trump’s team has been infiltrating all these Russia-based cases by signing defense cooperation agreements, and it looks like they succeeded in convincing Flynn’s lawyers to inject right-wing conspiracy language into an official court filing.
This obviously backfired in spectacular fashion. Now Flynn is in limbo for another ninety days and has been branded a traitor by a federal judge in a case where he was only accused of lying.
I could not be more satisfied with this result.