In Michael Flynn’s first appearance in federal court since pleading guilty seven months ago, his lawyers confirmed that he continues to cooperate with prosecutors and is eager to be sentenced and wrap up his case.
But it was no clearer after Tuesday’s hearing when President Trump’s former national security adviser’s federal case will conclude.
Flynn’s presence in court in Washington punctured ongoing speculation by conservative media that the prosecution of Flynn is falling apart and that the retired Army lieutenant general might withdraw his guilty plea in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe.
Flynn admitted in December to lying to the FBI about contacts with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, becoming one of the first Trump associates to cooperate — and the highest-ranking official charged — in Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Flynn attorney Robert K. Kelner told the judge that his client’s cooperation agreement with prosecutors remains in effect. “General Flynn is eager to proceed [to sentencing] when it is possible. With the cooperation agreement, it really is up to the government to make that determination,” Kelner said.
Flynn has become an important exhibit for some Trump supporters, who say that he was mistreated by the FBI as part of a wide-ranging conspiracy to undermine the president.
Some Republicans in Congress have been questioning whether Flynn was pressured unfairly to plead guilty. In May, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) complained in a letter that James B. Comey, then the FBI director, had told the committee in 2017 that the agents who interviewed Flynn about his interactions with the Russian ambassador “did not believe [Flynn] intentionally lied” about the conversation.
Flynn did not speak in court Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the District called for the hearing after the defense and prosecutors jointly asked him on June 29 to begin sentencing preparations, while at the same time saying it was too soon to set sentencing given the “status” of the ongoing investigation.
Sullivan asked why he should break with his usual practice, which is to set a sentencing date at the same time he launches the pre-sentencing review. Dissatisfied with the response, Sullivan directed Flynn to come to court.
The judge also said he wanted a chance to meet Flynn for the first time and get to know the parties before sentencing. A different judge, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras, took Flynn’s plea Dec. 1, before recusing himself for undisclosed reasons.
The pre-sentencing report is an investigation into whether a person’s background may warrant a harsher or more lenient sentence takes 70 to 90 days to prepareand is a necessary step in the federal system before sentencing. However, prosecutors are not required to set a sentencing date even after the report is complete.
In a joint reply to the judge, prosecutor Brandon L. Van Grack and Flynn attorney Kelner had said that although they still wanted to postpone sentencing and could update Sullivan again about timing on Aug. 24, they had asked to launch the pre-sentence investigation because it would eventually help the court move more quickly.
Prosecutors typically delay sentencing for cooperating witnesses until their help — including testimony before a grand jury or at trial — no longer is needed and routinely do so jointly with the defendants.
The August date “may come and go. That’s fine as well, the court is not going to pressure parties to sentencing,” Sullivan said. But whenever they did want to proceed, he said, he could “schedule sentencing in 60 days, as opposed to the traditional 90 days.”
“We would certainly welcome that, your honor,” Kelner said.
“The government would welcome that, too,” Van Grack said.
If a 60-day clock for sentencing were to start Aug. 24, Flynn could be sentenced before November’s congressional elections.
Separately Tuesday, a new Washington-based lobbying firm said it had hired Flynn as “director of global strategy” — before being contradicted by his defense team later in the day.
The company, Stonington Global, “will help domestic and international clients navigate global equity markets and facilitate interactions with governments,” it said in a statement. The firm is headed by Nick Muzin, a former Republican campaign and congressional operative and a Trump backer who last fall established a similarly named company that Qatar, apparently its sole client, paid $500,000 a month to help improve the Persian Gulf country’s U.S. relationships. Although Muzin tweeted in early June that his company no longer represented Qatar, his contract with the country extends until the end of next month.
In its statement announcing the formation of the company and Flynn’s appointment, Flynn said that he was “excited to begin this new phase of my career.”
Speaking of his new position, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, Flynn said he would “put to good use” his past service to “presidents of both parties.”
But late Tuesday, Kelner and Stephen Anthony, attorneys for Flynn, said that he “has not joined Stonington and did not personally issue any public statement.” His lawyers said Flynn “was aware that a statement was being drafted, but he did not intend that it be issued at this time,” adding that the release “appears to have been a misunderstanding.”
The special counsel’s office and Flynn have postponed sentencing three times so far — not unusual in major investigations — but the June postponement drew heightened scrutiny as the president’s legal team weighed whether Trump will sit for an interview with the special counsel’s office.
Mueller’s office for months has sought to question the president about events that led to his decisions to oust Flynn and Comey, including scrutinizing possible efforts by Trump or others to impede the special counsel’s probe, The Washington Post has reported.
In Flynn’s case, neither party gave any sign in court filings of the state of talks with the president’s lawyers.
Flynn resigned from his high-ranking White House post in February 2017 after the White House said that he misled Vice President Pence and other administration officials about his contacts with Kislyak.
His plea revealed that he was in touch with senior Trump transition officials before and after his communications with the ambassador. The pre-inauguration communications with Kislyak involved efforts to blunt Obama administration policy decisions on sanctions against Russia and a United Nations resolution on Israel — potential violations of a rarely enforced law.
Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.