'You sold your country out': The judge overseeing Michael Flynn's case went off during his sentencing hearing

michael flynnFormer U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn departs after a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017.Joshua Roberts/Reuters

  • US District Judge Emmet Sullivan had harsh words for former national security adviser Michael Flynn during his sentencing hearing Tuesday.
  • "Arguably," Sullivan told Flynn, "you sold your country out."
  • He pleaded guilty last December to one count of lying to the FBI as part of the bureau's Russia investigation. He has been cooperating with investigators for nearly a year since then.
  • Flynn told the judge he "was aware" lying to the FBI was a crime when he misled investigators during a January 2017 interview.
  • Sullivan said "this crime" that Flynn committed "is very serious."

  • "In the White House!" he said. "In the West Wing! It's a very serious offense. You can't minimize that." He later asked prosecutors whether Flynn could face charges for treason, but government lawyers said they didn't want to broach that territory.

Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, faced harsh blowback from US District Judge Emmet Sullivan on Tuesday during his sentencing hearing after nearly a year of cooperating with federal investigators.

Flynn pleaded guilty last December with one count of lying to the FBI about his communications with Sergey Kislyak, then-Russia's ambassador to the US. He also admitted to lying about the lobbying work he did for the Turkish government.

President Donald Trump has frequently suggested that Flynn was duped into lying to the FBI. On Tuesday, Flynn threw cold water on that assertion and said he "was aware" lying to the FBI was a crime when he misled investigators.

During his sentencing hearing, Sullivan asked Flynn whether he wanted to challenge the circumstances under which he was interviewed by the FBI.

"No, your honor," Flynn replied.

Sullivan later gave Flynn another chance to withdraw his guilty plea if he felt he had been unfairly coaxed into pleading guilty.

"I would like to proceed," Flynn said.

Asked whether he wished to proceed because he was guilty, Flynn said, "Yes, your honor."

Sullivan asked prosecutors whether Flynn was still cooperating.

"It remains a possibility," they said, but added that their decision to move forward with his sentencing was based on the fact that he had already given them the "vast majority" of potentially useful information. They emphasized an indictment unsealed on Monday against his former associate, who was charged with acting as an illegal agent of the Turkish government.

Nonetheless, Sullivan said, "this crime" that Flynn committed "is very serious."

"In the White House!" he said. "In the West Wing! It's a very serious offense. You can't minimize that."

He added: "Arguably, you sold your country out."

Sullivan also asked the government whether Flynn could be charged under the Logan Act, and even whether he could face charges of treason. Prosecutors declined to broach that territory.

The judge then declared that the court would go into recess until 12:30 PM ET, at which point they will reconvene so Sullivan can rule on Flynn's prison sentence.

Robert MuellerRobert Mueller.Alex Wong/Getty Images

What Flynn lied about

According to a memo the special counsel Robert Mueller's office released late Monday, Flynn portrayed his conversations with Kislyak as more benign than they were during a January 2017 interview with FBI agents.

The memo said Flynn told investigators "no," he had not tried to influence Russia's vote on a United Nations Security Council resolution about Israeli settlements.

But investigators knew Flynn had asked Russia to vote against or delay the resolution, according to charging documents filed in his case last year.

Mueller's memo said Flynn also lied when FBI agents asked him about then-President Barack Obama's expulsion of Russian diplomats and closing of Russian diplomatic facilities in response to the Kremlin's meddling in the 2016 election.

Investigators asked Flynn whether he had asked Kislyak during a phone call in December not to retaliate following Obama's move, and Flynn replied, "Not really. I don't remember." He added that he didn't tell Kislyak, "Don't do anything," the memo said.

But his answers contradicted signals intelligence the FBI had collected that indicated Flynn had asked Kislyak during the phone call not to punch back.

Read more: Mueller sent a clear message - and a warning - with Flynn's sentencing memo

In a sentencing memo Mueller's office filed in Flynn's case last week, prosecutors recommended that Flynn get little to no jail time, citing the "substantial assistance" he provided to the special counsel's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election - as well as other, separate ongoing investigations.

Flynn was among the first defendants to plead guilty in the Russia probe. His sentencing was delayed five times after prosecutors said they needed more information from the former national security adviser, who served as a key surrogate on Trump's 2016 campaign.

Flynn emerges as a valuable asset

Donald Trump Mike FlynnGeorge Frey/Getty Images

In their sentencing memo, prosecutors emphasized that Flynn began cooperating early, that his assistance was critical in encouraging other witnesses to come forward and be candid, and that he helped the investigation in several ways.

In typical fashion, Mueller's office revealed very little information, if any, about the specifics of what Flynn told them. Prosecutors also attached a largely-redacted six-page addendum to the sentencing memo laying out how Flynn had cooperated in what appears to be a separate investigation not being conducted by Mueller's office.

In the original sentencing memo, prosecutors laid out the crux of what Flynn was charged with: his lies to the FBI about conversations he had with Kislyak about US sanctions on Russia.

Read more: Here's a glimpse at Trump's decades-long history of business ties to Russia

But that's not the only thread of which Flynn may have had valuable information.

The former national security adviser was also not forthcoming about his involvement in three key areas: his now defunct lobbying firm's work for the Turkish government in 2016, his efforts with Russia and Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear reactors in the Middle East, a project that would have benefited from the US lifting sanctions on Russia, and payments he received from the state-owned media outlet Russia Today that he failed to disclose when he applied to renew his security clearance in January 2016.

Flynn was also a participant in a controversial meeting with Kislyak and senior adviser Jared Kushner during the transition period, in which Kushner reportedly discussed setting up a secret back channel between the Trump team and Moscow using Russian diplomatic facilities.

And he also served as an adviser to the campaign when Kushner, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Donald Trump Jr. met with two Russian lobbyists offering dirt on the Hillary Clinton campaign. The meeting, which took place at Trump Tower in June 2016, is a key investigative focus for the special counsel and congressional committees.

'Flynn gave up the goods'

Jared KushnerJared Kushner.REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Flynn's sentencing memo said he provided "firsthand information" about contacts between Russian officials and members of the Trump transition team.

"We do not yet know everything about Flynn's cooperation," said Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, in an interview with INSIDER. "The heavy redactions in the filing hide nearly all the details that Mueller provided to the court."

Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at Cornell Law School and an expert on criminal law, echoed that view.

"There is more to come, but we don't know what that is," told INSIDER. The substantial redactions in Flynn's sentencing memo indicate that the targets of other investigations he's cooperated with have not yet been charged, he said. "It could be a reference to an obstruction of justice investigation, possibly involving the president, but we don't really know. So this is a known unknown."

Honig emphasized, however, that "if you read around all that black ink, Mueller did say enough to let us know this: Flynn gave up the goods, and Mueller's work is far from over."

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