Michael Flynn, former U.S. national security advisor (Photographer: Win McNamee/ Pool via Bloomberg)

Mueller Recommends No Jail for Flynn, Citing His Cooperation

(Bloomberg) -- Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has provided so much help to prosecutors investigating the Trump campaign and Russia’s attempt to sway the 2016 election that Special Counsel Robert Mueller said he has earned a lenient sentence that doesn’t include time behind bars.

Mueller Recommends No Jail for Flynn, Citing His Cooperation

After pleading guilty early last December to lying to federal agents, Flynn provided useful information during 19 interviews, Mueller’s prosecutors said Tuesday in a court filing. They noted that some of the benefit from Flynn’s cooperation may not be “fully realized at this time” because investigations are “ongoing.”

“Given the defendant’s substantial assistance,” Mueller said, a sentence that “does not impose a term of incarceration -- is appropriate and warranted.”

Mueller’s recommendation of no jail for Flynn is another indication the Special Counsel is willing to give a break to those who help his investigation. But he also seemed to be sending a message to others, who may still be under scrutiny.

“Senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards,” Mueller said in the sentencing memo filed in federal court in Washington.

3 Probes

With high-profile roles on President Donald Trump’s campaign and transition team, Flynn, who retired as a lieutenant general in 2014, has likely guided Mueller through periods of intense investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Mueller has also secured the cooperation of others in the Trump circle with a view on those months, including Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer, and Rick Gates, an associate of Paul Manafort who was a fixture on Trump’s campaign and inauguration teams.

Flynn aided Mueller on three investigations, according to the filing.

One of them is at the center of the Special Counsel’s probe -- the links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with Trump’s campaign. Flynn “provided firsthand information about the content and context of the interactions between the transition team and Russian government officials,” the Special Counsel wrote.

Details of the other two investigations are redacted -- one is identified as a “criminal” investigation -- although Mueller notes that Flynn spoke to prosecutors from “other Department of Justice offices” and “provided documents and communications.” It’s unclear who those prosecutors are or what Flynn told them.

The heavily-redacted filing omits a number of key issues, including why Flynn lied, whether anyone directed him to do so, or details of his interactions with Trump. Still, the references to “ongoing” investigations suggests Mueller won’t be wrapping up his work any time soon.

Early Cooperation

Mueller emphasized that Flynn’s decision to cooperate early made him a key part of the investigation.

“His early cooperation was particularly valuable because he was one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight regarding events under investigation” by the Special Counsel’s office, Mueller wrote. “Additionally, the defendant’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming with the SCO and cooperate.”

One of the first Trump associates charged by Mueller, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying about the substance of his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. in the waning days of the Obama administration, just before Trump took office.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Flynn faces a maximum sentence of 6 months in prison, prosecutors said. Two others who admitted to lying to investigators in Mueller’s probe ended up with light sentences even though they didn’t cooperate with prosecutors. George Papadopoulos, a foreign-policy adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign, is serving a 14-day jail sentence and lawyer Alex van der Zwaan got 30 days.

It’s illegal for private citizens to interfere in a sitting government’s foreign policy. Flynn, a retired U.S. Army general, told investigators that his pre-inauguration talks with then Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, were general in nature.

In fact, Flynn later told investigators, he had asked Kislyak to help delay or defeat a UN Security Council vote concerning Israel. About a week later, the men discussed just-imposed Obama administration sanctions upon Russia.

Flynn’s cooperation could be trouble for people around Trump. Flynn admitted last year that the talks were instigated at the request of a “very senior” official who people familiar with the matter have identified as the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now a White House senior adviser.

Flynn served as Trump’s national security adviser for just 24 days, resigning on Feb. 13, 2016, after a senior Justice Department official raised concerns with the administration about his truthfulness.

So far Trump has defended Flynn publicly, including in an April tweet.

Before his Trump roles, Flynn served in the Army for more than 30 years, rising to lead the Defense Intelligence Agency before being fired by President Barack Obama.

Once he entered the private sector, Flynn launched his own security consulting firm, Flynn Intelligence Group, and used his military experience to enter a wide range of business ventures, some which involved problematic entanglements. He was a paid board member of Brainwave Science, a Boston-based technology company co-run by a man who had been convicted of trying to sell U.S. biotech secrets to the Russian KGB spy service.

In December 2015, Flynn gave a $45,000 speech at a gala for the RT network, during which he sat at the table of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also gave paid speeches to at least two other companies with ties to Russia.

Flynn also worked on the intelligence committee of Trump’s transition team at the same time he was conducting lobbying work for the Turkish government. In his guilty plea, Flynn acknowledged that he had also lied about the extent of his work for Turkey.

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