Michael Flynn will likely walk out of a courtroom a free man, but the run-up to his sentencing hearing Tuesday has exposed raw tensions over an FBI interview in which he lied about his Russian contacts.
The former Trump national security adviser’s lawyers have suggested that investigators discouraged him from having an attorney present during the January 2017 interview and never informed him it was a crime to lie.
On Monday evening, the dispute — and a judge’s ruling — forced prosecutors to publicly file a redacted copy of the notes from Flynn’s FBI interview.
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The mere insinuation of underhanded tactics has been startling given the seemingly productive relationship between the two sides, and it was especially striking since prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office have praised Flynn’s cooperation and recommended against prison time.
Trump wished Flynn “Good luck” in court on Tuesday.
Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn. Will be interesting to see what he has to say, despite tremendous pressure being put on him, about Russian Collusion in our great and, obviously, highly successful political campaign. There was no Collusion!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2018
Until the dueling memos were filed last week, Flynn had cooperated extensively and largely avoided the aggressive tactics of the Mueller probe.
Prosecutors, for example, have accused former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of lying to them even after he agreed to cooperate. Manafort insists prosecutors are threatening him if he doesn’t make false statements they want.
Another target, Jerome Corsi, also accused Mueller’s team of bullying him.
And George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign adviser recently released from a two-week prison sentence, has publicly claimed that he was set up.
Although Flynn and his attorneys stopped short of any direct accusations of wrongdoing, they suggested the FBI, which approached Flynn at the White House just days after Trump’s inauguration, played to his desire to keep the encounter quiet and as a result kept him from involving a lawyer.
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The FBI officials involved in the investigation later came under fire themselves for their anti-Trump bias. Former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who contacted Flynn to arrange the interview, was fired this year for what the Justice Department said was a lack of honesty over media leaks. Peter Strzok, one of the two agents who interviewed Flynn, was removed from Mueller’s team and later fired for trading nasty anti-Trump texts with another FBI official.
Mueller’s team has sharply pushed back at any suggestion that Flynn was duped, with prosecutors responding that as a high-ranking military officer steeped in national security issues Flynn “knows he should not lie to federal agents.”
Trump has made no secret that he sees Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” and has continued to lash out at prosecutors he sees as biased against him and those who help them. He’s shown continued sympathy for Flynn, though, calling him a “great person.”
Flynn has not tried to retract his guilty plea, and there’s every indication the sentencing will proceed as scheduled.
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It’s possible the defense arguments may resonate with U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who was the judge in the Justice Department’s botched prosecution of now-deceased Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska. He dismissed the case after prosecutors admitted that they withheld exculpatory evidence, prompting the judge to say that in nearly 25 years on the bench, “I’ve never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I’ve seen in this case.”
In an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal last year, Sullivan said the case inspired him to explicitly remind prosecutors in every criminal case before him of their obligation to provide defendants with favorable evidence. He says he has encouraged colleagues to do the same.
In Flynn’s case, he directed prosecutors to produce FBI records at the center of his case, including portions of the notes from his Jan. 24, 2017, FBI interview.
The notes, publicly filed Monday evening, show that FBI agents interviewed Flynn about his contacts with Russia, including his past trips to the country and his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.
It’s unclear what impact, if any, the notes will have on Sullivan’s sentencing decision.
The Associated Press contributed to this article