Former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has already pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes, though he expected the sentencing phase to go relatively smoothly. Both his defense attorneys and prosecutors agreed that Flynn -- a cooperating witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation -- should not face a prison sentence.
But the sentencing recommendations are really just advisory, and courts can go their own way. Today, the judge in Flynn's case examined his misdeeds and took the proceedings in an unexpected direction.
A federal judge, in a dramatic hearing on Tuesday, agreed to delay the sentencing hearing for former national security adviser Michael Flynn because he may be able to provide additional cooperation to federal investigators, and get credit for it.Flynn was due to be sentenced for lying to the FBI last year about his contacts with Russian officials in the aftermath of the 2016 campaign as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference.But during Tuesday's hearing, Sullivan pulled few punches when it came to Flynn's conduct, saying he couldn't hide his "disgust" with the retired Army lieutenant general and questioned why he hadn't been charged with treason.
Sullivan, about whom conservatives had high hopes, told Flynn at one point, "Arguably, you sold your country out" by working as an unregistered foreign agent. The judge even broached the subject of "treason," though he later downplayed the comments.
Once it became clear that a prison sentence may very well be in Flynn's future, Donald Trump's former national security adviser and his attorneys asked to postpone the sentencing process. At this point, Flynn will try to provide additional information to federal investigators, in the hopes that additional cooperation will lead to a more favorable sentence.
More than a few Republicans have invested quite a bit of time and energy into the idea that Flynn's crimes were minor and inconsequential. The president himself said the retired general merely made "the smallest of misstatements."
The judge in this case took a good look at what Flynn did and came to a very different conclusion.
At this point, folks who are unfamiliar with the details of the Flynn scandal might be asking, "And what exactly did Flynn do? All the scandals surrounding Trump World are hard to keep up with."
If you missed it, Rachel's coverage of the controversy last night is well worth your time, and the emerging portrait of Flynn is deeply unflattering. At the risk of over-simplifying matters, the former top national security official in the Trump White House lied to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian government, lied to investigators about being a paid agent of the Turkish government, and acted illegally as Turkey's unregistered foreign agent during the time that he was the top national security adviser on the Trump campaign.
The Trump transition team and the White House were notified of investigations into Flynn, but at least for a while, neither seemed to care, which itself raises a series of awkward questions, including why the president his team never even considered restricting this guy's access to the nation's most sensitive national security secrets.
As of yesterday, Flynn is also an unindicted co-conspirator in the case against Bijan Kian, a former Trump transition official and Trump associate, who also has been indicted for illegal lobbying for a foreign government.
And yet, despite all of this, the right has decided that Mike Flynn is some kind of heroic victim of federal law enforcement run amok. Even though Flynn has already pleaded guilty, a wide variety of Republicans eagerly make the case that he's been treated unfairly, his lies were the result of set-ups, and he deserves Americans' sympathy.
The conspiracy theories, however, have been discredited. Flynn's guilt is no longer in question.
It reminds me a bit of the Carter Page story in one specific way: some of the White House's allies are so caught up in the idea Robert Mueller is a malevolent actor, and the special counsel's investigation is an illegal "witch hunt," that they reflexively rally behind the wrong people, hoping it will somehow benefit Trump.
The defenses of Flynn, however, don't make sense. After today's court proceedings, that should be obvious to anyone looking at the story fairly.