A federal judge on Tuesday delayed the sentencing of Michael Flynn after unleashing a stinging verbal attack on President Trump’s former national security adviser, accusing him of selling out the country.
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said he couldn’t hide his “disgust and disdain” with Flynn’s crimes, including working to covertly advance the interests of the Turkish government during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“Arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for. Arguably, you sold your country out,” Judge Sullivan said.
But the judge agreed to delay sentencing to give Flynn a chance to prove he is cooperating with other Justice Department criminal cases.
It was a major reversal for Flynn, who strode into the courtroom in the District of Columbia on Tuesday morning with a recommendation from special counsel Robert Mueller that he not serve time for lying to the FBI.
But Judge Sullivan quickly made clear he wasn’t bound by that recommendation.
SEE ALSO: White House sticks to claim Flynn ambushed by FBI
“I cannot assure you if you proceed today you will not receive a sentence of incarceration,” the judge said.
Flynn’s body tightened and his jaw clenched as Judge Sullivan continued, telling Flynn that his lies caused government officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and others, to lie to the American people.
Flynn was fired from the Trump administration for lying to Mr. Pence about his contacts with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak after the 2016 presidential election. He later lied to FBI investigators about it, too.
“This is a very serious offense,” Judge Sullivan said. “A high-ranking senior official of the government making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation while in the White House.”
Prosecutors with Mr. Mueller’s team had urged Judge Sullivan not to send Flynn to prison, citing his cooperation with the Russia probe and other Justice Department investigations. Mr. Mueller said Flynn deserves credit for providing substantial assistance during 19 meetings and encouraging others to come forward and cooperate.
The White House stood by its former national security adviser. Mr. Trump wished Flynn “good luck” in a tweet, and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Flynn was essentially tricked into lying to the FBI.
“What we do know that was inappropriate … is the way FBI broke standard protocol and the way they came in and ambushed Gen. Flynn,” she said.
Mrs. Sanders said former FBI Director James B. Comey, whom Mr. Trump fired, treated the Trump administration unfairly.
Flynn’s attorneys have maintained that he did not lie to investigators. They said in a sentencing memo last week that FBI agents duped him into lying and did advise him that making false statements to federal authorities is a crime.
The Mueller team rejected that suggestion and said Flynn, a former military intelligence officer, knew he would face criminal prosecution for lying to agents.
“Nothing about the way the interview was arranged or conducted caused the defendant to make false statements to the FBI on Jan. 24,” Mr. Mueller wrote in a court filing last week.
On Tuesday, Flynn’s attorneys seemed to agree.
When asked by Judge Sullivan whether Flynn was “entrapped by the FBI,” his attorney responded, “No, your honor.”
The sentencing hearing was held a day after prosecutors unsealed indictments against two of Flynn’s former business associates. The government accuses the former associates of plotting with Turkish officials to pressure the U.S. government to extradite a cleric living in Pennsylvania to Turkey.
The cleric, Fethullah Gulen, is accused of masterminding a failed 2016 coup against the Turkish government. Prosecutors said the two defendants illegally and covertly hid the Turkish government’s involvement in the lobbying effort, which enlisted Flynn.
Flynn is cooperating in that investigation and is expected to testify if the case goes to trial, said Flynn attorney Robert Kelner.
The hope is that Flynn’s assistance in that case will bolster the effort to keep him out of prison.
“We are prepared to take you up on his suggestion of delaying sentencing so he can eke out the last modicum of cooperation in the Eastern District of Virginia,” Mr. Kelner said.
Judge Sullivan agreed to delay sentencing but said he was “not making any promises Flynn would be spared prison at a future sentencing date.”
A status conference is scheduled for March.