A U.S. judge in Washington on Tuesday sternly rebuked President Donald Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for lying to investigators about his contacts with Russia in the weeks before Trump assumed power in early 2017, but delayed his sentencing.
"I can't hide my disgust, my disdain," U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said of Flynn's behavior, before later acceding to a request by Flynn's lawyers to postpone his sentencing.
Flynn acknowledged to Sullivan, "I was aware," that it was a crime to lie to interrogators when they asked him about his discussions with Russia's then-ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak.
In recent weeks Flynn's lawyers and the White House had suggested that the longtime U.S. general was "entrapped" by the FBI, because he was not formally notified before speaking with federal investigators that it was illegal to lie to them.
Flynn rejected that characterization in his court hearing, saying he was aware that lying to the investigators was wrong.
The judge told Flynn that his offense was "very serious" and that "arguably, you sold your country out."
Special counsel Robert Mueller had recommended the 60-year-old Flynn, a retired Army general and once head of the country's Defense Intelligence Agency, not be sentenced to any prison time because he had provided "substantial" cooperation with prosecutors in their ongoing 19-month investigation of Trump 2016 campaign links with Russia and whether, as president, Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.
But Sullivan said he could not guarantee that Flynn will avoid a prison term when he is eventually sentenced, sometime in the months to come.
Flynn was set to be the first Trump administration official to be sentenced in the Mueller probe.
Last week, Trump's former attorney, New York lawyer Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison, in part for his role, in what he said was at Trump's direction, of making $280,000 in payments shortly before the election to buy the silence of two women who allegedly had affairs with the future president a decade before he entered politics.
Others in Trump's orbit are awaiting sentencing for various other offenses.
Hours before Flynn headed to court, Trump, in a Twitter remark, wished his former aide "good luck."
Later, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, "We wish General Flynn well."
Flynn served as Trump's national security adviser at the outset of his administration, but was fired after less than a month on the job. Evidence surfaced that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence and others about his contacts with Kislyak in the period between Trump's election in November 2016 and becoming president on January 20, 2017.
Flynn was a fixture at Trump's political rallies during the 2016 campaign, often mocking the Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At the Republican national convention that formally nominated Trump as the party's 2016 candidate, Flynn led thousands of Trump supporters in chanting against Clinton, "Lock her up! Lock her up!" for her usage of a private email server during her tenure as the country's top diplomat.
Flynn met 19 times with Mueller's investigators since pleading guilty a year ago, talks that drew the interest of Trump just ahead of the sentencing as to what he might reveal about the inner workings of the 2016 campaign. A Mueller prosecutor told Judge Sullivan it was possible Flynn would continue to cooperate with investigators.
Jimmy Gurule, a former federal prosecutor now a law professor at Notre Dame University, told VOA that Flynn’s continued cooperation with the special counsel and other prosecutors may help him avoid a prison sentence.
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“If he hasn’t provided all that he knows now to assist the special counsel, this is the time to do it if he wants to avoid spending any time in jail,” Gurule said.
But Gurule added that after the numerous interviews with Flynn over the past year, Mueller may already have elicited from him “all of the relevant information that they think would be helpful to their criminal investigations.”
Flynn had drawn investigators' scrutiny before he ran afoul of the FBI investigation in January 2017. While serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign in 2016, he lobbied for a Dutch company linked to the Turkish government without registering as a foreign agent.
On Monday, the United States charged two of Flynn's former business associates with illegally carrying out a Turkish lobbying campaign. The government said the scheme was an effort to push American officials to expel a Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, alleged by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to have orchestrated the failed 2016 coup against Erdogan's government.
Flynn began cooperating with the special counsel after pleading guilty to lying to federal agents about his conversations with Kislyak. He became the first of five former Trump associates who have entered guilty pleas with the special counsel's office.
Trump has for months derided Mueller's probe, tweeting several more broadsides against it after wishing Flynn well.