Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the only former Trump administration official so far charged in the Russia investigation, will be in court Tuesday for a procedural hearing about his sentencing — his first court appearance since he admitted that he lied to investigators seven months ago.
Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan last week ordered Flynn and the prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller back to court to hash out some details regarding Flynn’s sentencing. He pleaded guilty in December to lying to the FBI, but his sentencing has been delayed while he aided the Mueller probe.
The question at hand: Why do Flynn’s lawyers and Mueller’s team want to move forward with steps usually reserved for the sentencing phase while simultaneously asking to delay sentencing?
The two parties jointly asked that a probation officer prepare a report on how Flynn’s background fits with federal sentencing guidelines. They also asked that sentencing be delayed for another two months. They told Sullivan this was necessary “due to the status of the Special Counsel’s investigation,” but that explanation was not enough to satisfy the judge, who is known for strong oversight of prosecutors.
Some conservative activists have called for a “flash mob” of Flynn supporters to gather outside the courthouse Tuesday morning. Conservative groups online have recently promoted, without evidence, rumors that the case against Flynn was collapsing and that Flynn might withdraw his guilty plea.
Flynn has hardly been seen in public since his guilty plea in December. He got a standing ovation at a March campaign event for Omar Navarro, the long-shot California Republican who will face Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters in November. He also stumped for an unsuccessful Senate candidate in Montana.
The crime that Flynn admitted committing, formally known as “making false statements,” carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, according to federal guidelines. Sullivan, a federal court appointee of President Bill Clinton who first served on lower courts under Republican presidents, will ultimately be the one who decides Flynn’s punishment.
The hearing comes as several other Mueller-related cases are unfolding in the Washington area. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort faces federal trials in Virginia and Washington, DC, the first of which is scheduled to begin in two weeks. And Mueller’s prosecutors are also wrangling in court with a Russian company that was indicted earlier this year for meddling in the US election through social media.
Another Trump campaign associate whom Mueller’s team charges with lying to associates and who pleaded guilty last year, George Papadopoulos, is set to be sentenced September 7.
Mueller was appointed in May 2017 to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, links between the Trump campaign and Russia, and “any matters” arising from the probe. His team of seasoned prosecutors embraced that broad mandate and has also examined potential obstruction of justice, attempted meddling by other countries and old business dealings unrelated to the election.