President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn has fired his attorneys and retained new counsel, according to court filings, as he awaits sentencing for lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts in Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of interference in the 2016 election.
Flynn’s defense team of Robert K. Kelner and Stephen P. Anthony declined to comment Thursday beyond a one-page filing in which they requested that their law firm withdraw as counsel, advising the federal court in Washington that Flynn “has notified the undersigned that he is terminating Covington & Burling LLP as his counsel and has already retained new counsel for this matter.”
Kelner and Anthony asked U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of Washington to allow them to withdraw, saying that because only sentencing remains in Flynn’s case and has yet to be scheduled, the change in defense team would not harm the prosecution or defense and was in the interest of justice.
Flynn’s new counsel was not identified but would be expected to notify the court through a filing on the public docket.
Separately, the government Thursday unsealed a less-redacted version of the FBI report of Flynn’s January 2017 interview with agents in the case, saying there was no longer a “compelling government interest” to seal certain information. The version posted Thursday revealed only minor additional details.
The release came in response to a motion The Washington Post filed with the court this year arguing that the public deserved to know more about Flynn’s role in key events and his cooperation with investigators.
On Thursday, Sullivan also directed that court officials release an audio version of a previously released transcript of a sensitive call between lawyers for Trump and Flynn.
The replacement of Flynn’s attorneys came after a tumultuous few months.
Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to falsely telling the FBI in an interview that he had not discussed sanctions with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump’s inauguration.
Flynn agreed to cooperate in Mueller’s investigation, leading to his sentencing being delayed to December 2018.
Ahead of a proceeding in December, his defense sought a punishment of probation but no prison time, citing what they said was Flynn’s extensive assistance. Prosecutors did not oppose that request.
But in a stormy court session, Sullivan postponed sentencing after lambasting the former three-star general and his lawyers for suggesting that the FBI had duped Flynn. “Arguably, you sold your country out,” Sullivan told Flynn at the time.
Flynn admitted to lying to the FBI while in the White House and to working to advance the interests of the Turkish government while he was a part of Trump’s presidential campaign. Sullivan also had Flynn state in court that he knew that lying to the FBI was illegal and that he was guilty of a crime.
Flynn then asked that his sentencing be postponed, promising to continue cooperating with the government to strengthen his position with the court when he returns to be sentenced.
A new sentencing date has not been set.
Flynn is expected to testify in Alexandria, Va., at the federal trial of his former business partner Bijan Kian in July. Kian has been charged with working as an unregistered agent of Turkey; he has pleaded not guilty.
The audio release Thursday follows a release last month on Sullivan’s order of a transcript of a sensitive voice mail involving Flynn that one of President Trump’s attorneys left for Flynn’s lawyer. The Trump counsel was John Dowd, according to people familiar with the episode, and he reminded Kelner of the president’s fondness for Flynn at a time when Flynn was considering cooperating with federal investigators.
Most of the voice mail was quoted in Mueller’s report, but Sullivan directed that the audio version be made public.
The special counsel scrutinized the message as part of his investigation into whether Trump sought to obstruct the Russia investigation. In the voice mail to Kelner, Dowd described himself as “sympathetic.”
“I understand your situation, but let me see if I can’t state it in starker terms,” he said, adding that if “there’s information that implicates the President, then we’ve got a national security issue.”
“So you know, . . . we need some kind of heads up,” he added. “Um, just for the sake of protecting all our interests if we can, without you having to give up any . . . confidential information . . . remember what we’ve always said about the President and his feelings toward Flynn and, that still remains.”
Dowd said there was never anything improper about his contact and has called the Mueller report “a baseless, political document designed to smear and damage the reputation of counsel and innocent people.”
Kelner has declined to comment on the exchange.