A federal judge agreed Thursday to postpone Michael Flynn’s sentence by another month while he was considering Trump’s former national security adviser’s recent request to withdraw his culpable confession of false statements to the FBI.
In his decision, US District Judge Emmet Sullivan scheduled a new trial for February 27, while setting a series of legal terms for lawyers to explain their views on the retired army general’s unusual move.
Flynn officially informed Sullivan on Monday that he wanted to refrain from the appeal reached at the end of 2017 with Robert Mueller’s then special representative. This decision came months after Flynn shifted to a more confrontational defense strategy, hired new attorneys, and fought with the federal government prosecutors over planned statements in a related criminal case.
The abrupt turn to a more combative style prompted the federal attorney’s office earlier this month to tell Sullivan that Flynn was no longer remorse the way he had done when he pleaded guilty. As a result, DOJ prosecutors recommended Flynn to be sentenced to up to six months in prison, which may be a much more severe sentence than a suspended sentence to which the government appeared to be open a year ago.
Flynn, the only Trump administration official to be prosecuted by the Mueller investigation, pleaded guilty in December 2017 and made false statements about his dealings with the Russian ambassador and other diplomats during Trump’s turnaround in the presidency. As part of his cooperation agreement, Flynn conducted 19 interviews with the Mueller team and other DOJ prosecutors.
The former Trump adjutant was well on the way to being convicted at a hearing in December 2018, but suddenly resigned after following Sullivan’s recommendation to initially fulfill all of his government obligations. Instead of following this path, Flynn changed course and hired a new legal team led by Sidney Powell, a pronounced critic of the DOJ and the Mueller probe.
In her filing on Monday, Powell argued that the government was responsible for violating Flynn’s plea. She informed Sullivan of a long-standing dispute with the federal prosecutor’s office, which referred to statements that her client had prepared in the criminal proceedings against his former business partner Bijan Rafiekian last summer.
Flynn’s lawyers had told the government before the Rafiekian trial that he wanted to testify that errors in filing with the DOJ were not deliberate attempts to mislead the authorities, but the result of control and carelessness. This was not well received by the prosecutors, who said Flynn would withdraw from the confessions he had made in his guilty plea.
Ultimately, the federal attorneys decided against calling Flynn a witness in the foreign lobby, which led to two guilty verdicts against Rafiekian, which the judge later rejected. This case is now under appeal.
According to Thursday’s order, Flynn must file another brief by Wednesday explaining his reasons for withdrawing the pledge. A government response is scheduled for February 5, Flynn’s final response for February 12. Sullivan also postponed Flynn’s hearing scheduled for January 28 until the end of next month.
Flynn’s predicament brings Trump another hot potato for the election year, as many have speculated that Flynn’s strategy change is Trump’s petition for mercy.
Flynn is not the only ex-Trump adjutant hoping for mercy from his former boss. Trump’s former political adviser, Roger Stone, will face his fate before another federal judge on February 20, just over a week before Flynn’s next trial. A jury convicted Stone in November of seven crimes for lying to investigators, blocking a congressional probe and manipulating witnesses. These crimes are punished with a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison. This causes Stone’s allies to also request Trump to be pardoned.