Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III issued a heavily redacted sentencing report late Tuesday on Michael Flynn. In it, Mueller outlined the former national security adviser’s “substantial assistance” in the Russia investigation and recommended that the judge sentence him to no prison time.
The memo was not a bombshell, although it showed that the investigation is ongoing. It also revealed that Flynn assisted in a mysterious unrelated criminal investigation — significant enough that Mueller credited Flynn for his help in a noteworthy and blacked-out portion of the memo.
Those details didn’t sway cable news’s major personalities from their expected positions: The developments were praised during appearances on CNN, while they were dismissed or ignored on Fox News Channel.
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said Tuesday that the memo was cause for concern for those in the White House.
“I would be a little nervous if I were the people involved in the obstruction-of-justice investigation, starting of course with the president of the United States,” he said.
“Fox & Friends” co-host Pete Hegseth weighed in via Twitter while watching CNN at an airport, calling CNN’s Don Lemon “a moron.” Fox News host Sean Hannity disparaged the “big news out of the Mueller witch hunt,” calling Tuesday’s memo release a “sad and pathetic moment.”
Flynn resigned from his White House position in February 2017, amid accusations that he misled Cabinet members about his contacts with Russia. He was the first of five aides to President Trump to plead guilty in the special counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. After admitting in December 2017 that he lied to federal agents, Flynn began cooperating with the investigation.
On Tuesday, Hannity ignored that the former general committed a federal offense, labeling it a “victimless process crime” and bemoaning that “after all of this time, no prison” was Mueller’s stance on Flynn’s sentence; if convicted, he would have been facing up to nine months in prison.
“This is how America’s going to treat a military hero?” Hannity fumed.
A lone detail that Hannity and Toobin agreed on was that Flynn’s career in public service distinguished him.
Mueller’s sentencing memo addressed Flynn’s military record and made a point of saying, “Senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards” — something Toobin pointed out.
Toobin believed Mueller’s inclusion of that detail underscored how he will approach Trump White House officials involved in obstruction investigations.
He added, “I don’t think that is just filler material. I think that is a statement of how Mueller is going to approach the remainder of his investigation as he starts thinking about the people in the White House.”
Unlike Toobin, Hannity’s guest on Tuesday, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), focused on what Mueller did not include in the memo.
“There is no suggestion that Michael Flynn had anything to do with collusion. He was with the transition team. He was part of the campaign. And, yet, there is no mention of collusion,” Meadows said.
Hannity said Mueller used “the old perjury trap” as a fallback. But those with prosecution experience think the investigation will continue to center on “process crimes.”
The sentencing memo was not earth-shattering. Yet it served as a message to other Trump associates contemplating (or violating) agreements with the federal government: Mueller is willing to be lenient.
For Flynn, who despite committing a serious offense opted to offer “long-term and firsthand insight” early on, Mueller thought leniency was appropriate.
Meadows still concluded that the memo was “good news” for Trump, suggesting, “Even though they said [Flynn] substantially cooperated, I think he substantially cooperated to say that there was no collusion.”