Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations during the presidential transition period with the then-Russian ambassador to the United States, will become the first White House official punished in the special counsel’s ongoing probe into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
Flynn’s absence from the public eye, despite entreaties from supporters to take an aggressive stance against the Russia investigation, has made him a source of continuing public intrigue. His sentencing has the makings of a bookend moment for the investigation given that Flynn — a visible presence on the campaign trail, in high-level transition talks and in the chaotic early days of the administration — was an early, and pivotal, part of the case who appeared to enjoy the president’s sympathy even after his departure from the White House.
Central to the investigation are Flynn’s December 2016 phone discussions of Obama administration sanctions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, conversations that triggered intelligence community alarms and led to his ouster from the administration after officials maintained that he had lied to them about the communications.
They also prompted a Jan. 24, 2017, FBI interview at which Mueller says Flynn denied having discouraged Kislyak from an aggressive response to the sanctions, which had been imposed on the Kremlin for election interference that U.S. officials have said was aimed at helping Trump win office. He also told the FBI he had no recollection of a follow-up call with Kislyak in which the ambassador said Russia would moderate its response to the sanctions.
Tuesday’s defense filing did not contain new information about Flynn’s cooperation but it did provide additional details about the backstory of his FBI interview, including that unlike other defendants in the Russia probe, he wasn’t warned in advance that it was a crime to lie to the FBI.
Flynn’s attorneys also noted that two FBI officials involved in the interview have since been investigated for misconduct. FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok, who interviewed Flynn, was fired a year later over anti-Trump text messages. Then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who had arranged the interview but wasn’t present for it, was fired for what the Justice Department called a lack of candor involving a media leak.
Still, Flynn’s lawyers, Robert Kelner and Stephen Anthony, said their client never backed away from accepting responsibility for his crime.
The filing also focused on the retired Army lieutenant general’s three decades in the military, including five years in combat. It cited his numerous U.S. Army citations and included 50 letters of support from his family, friends and dozens of military officers and enlisted personnel who served with Flynn. And it described Flynn as a dedicated and fearless officer, noting that while deployed in Grenada, he once dove off a 40-foot cliff and saved two servicemen who had been swept out to sea.
The filing came as lawyers for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort said they were still deciding whether to dispute allegations that he lied to investigators and breached a plea agreement. A judge gave Manafort until Jan. 7 to respond to prosecutors’ claims that he misled them about his interactions with an associate who they say has ties to Russian intelligence and with Trump administration officials.
The defendants, their fortunes sliding in opposite directions, represent starkly different paths in Mueller’s investigation — a model cooperator on one end and, prosecutors say, a dishonest and resistant witness on the other. Even as prosecutors recommend no prison time for Flynn, they’ve left open the possibility they may seek additional charges against Manafort, who is already facing years in prison following separate convictions in Washington and Virginia.
Given both men’s extensive conversations with prosecutors, and their involvement in key episodes under scrutiny, the pair could pose a threat to the president, who in addition to Mueller’s investigation is entangled in a separate probe by prosecutors in New York into hush-money payments paid during the campaign to two women who say they had affairs with Trump.