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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Mueller recommends no prison for Michael Flynn 

Prosecutors say Trump's former national security adviser's cooperation was 'particularly valuable'

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn arrives for a White House senior staff swearing in ceremony in 2017. AP
National Security Adviser Michael Flynn arrives for a White House senior staff swearing in ceremony in 2017. AP

President Donald Trump's former national security adviser provided so much information to the special counsel's Russia investigation that prosecutors say he shouldn't do any prison time, according to a court filing on Tuesday that describes Michael Flynn's cooperation as "substantial."

The filing by special counsel Robert Mueller provides the first details of Mr Flynn's assistance in the Russia investigation, including that he participated in 19 interviews with prosecutors and cooperated extensively in a separate and undisclosed criminal probe. But the filing's extensive redactions also underscore how much Mr Mueller has yet to reveal.

It was filed two weeks ahead of Mr Flynn's sentencing and just over a year after he became the first of five Trump associates to accept responsibility by pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador to the US.

Though prosecutors withheld specific details of Mr Flynn's cooperation because of ongoing investigations, their filing nonetheless illustrates the breadth of information Mr Mueller has obtained from people close to President Trump as the president increasingly vents his anger at the probe — and those who cooperate with it.

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This week, Mr Trump accused his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, of making up "stories" to get a reduced prison sentence after pleading guilty to lying to Congress and also praised longtime confidante Roger Stone for saying he wouldn't testify against the US president.

It's unclear if Mr Trump will now turn his fury on Mr Flynn, whom he bonded with during the 2016 campaign.

President Trump has repeatedly lamented how Mr Flynn's life has been destroyed by the special counsel's probe. At one point, he tried to protect Mr Flynn by asking former FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into his alleged false statements, according to a memo Mr Comey wrote after the February 2017 encounter.

That episode, which President Trump has denied, is among those under scrutiny by Mr Mueller as he probes whether the president attempted to obstruct the Russia investigation.

Federal sentencing guidelines recommend between zero and six months in prison, and Mr Mueller's office said Mr Flynn's cooperation merits no prison time.

Prosecutors said Mr Flynn's early cooperation was "particularly valuable" because he was "one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight" into the events under investigation. They noted his cooperation likely inspired other crucial witnesses to cooperate.

Mr Mueller's team credited Mr Flynn with serving 33 years in the US Army, including five years in combat. But prosecutors also said the long military and government service that sets him apart from all other defendants in the investigation made his deception more troublesome.

"The defendant's extensive government service should have made him particularly aware of the harm caused by providing false information to the government, as well as the rules governing work performed on behalf of a foreign government," they wrote.

Mr Flynn's case has stood apart from those of other Trump associates, who have aggressively criticised the investigation, sought to undermine it and, in some cases, been accused of lying even after agreeing to cooperate.

Mr Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is accused of repeatedly lying to investigators since his guilty plea. Another Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, is serving a 14-day prison sentence and, though he pleaded guilty to the same crime as Mr Flynn, was denied probation because prosecutors said his cooperation was lacking.

But Mr Flynn has largely remained out of the public eye, appearing only sporadically in media interviews or campaign events, and avoided criticising the Mueller probe despite widespread encouragement from his supporters to go on the offensive. He has instead spent considerable time with his family and worked to position himself for a post-conviction career.

In Tuesday's filing, prosecutors emphasised that Mr Flynn lied about cuts to the core of the investigation into any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Mr Flynn's false statements stemmed from a January 24, 2017, interview with the FBI about his interactions with Sergey Kislyak, Russia's then-ambassador to the US, as the Obama administration was levying sanctions on the Kremlin in response to election interference.

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Mr Mueller's office blamed Mr Flynn for other senior Trump transition officials making misleading public statements about his contacts with Russia, an assertion that matches the White House's explanation of Mr Flynn's firing.

"Several senior members of the transition team publicly repeated false information conveyed to them by the defendant about communications between him and the Russian ambassador regarding the sanctions," the filing said.

As part of his plea deal, Mr Flynn said members of the president's inner circle, including his son-in-law and White House aide Jared Kushner, were involved in — and at times directing — his actions in the weeks before Mr Trump took office.

According to court papers, in mid-December 2016, Mr Kushner directed Mr Flynn to reach out to several countries, including Russia, about a UN Security Council resolution regarding Israeli settlements. During those conversations with Kislyak, Mr Flynn asked Russia to delay or vote against the resolution, a request the Kremlin ultimately rejected.

Mr Flynn also admitted that later in December 2016 he asked Kislyak not to retaliate in response to the Obama administration sanctions, something he initially told FBI agents he didn't do. Mr Flynn made the request after discussing it with deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, who was at Mr Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, and being told that the president's transition team did not want Russia to escalate the situation.

Mr Flynn was forced to resign his post on February 13, 2017, after news reports revealed that Obama administration officials had warned the Trump White House about Flynn's false statements. The White House has said Flynn misled officials— including Vice President Mike Pence — about the content of his conversations.

Mr Flynn also admitted to making false statements about unregistered foreign agent work he performed for the benefit of the Turkish government, a matter Mueller's team cited in Tuesday's filing. Mr Flynn was under investigation by the Justice Department for the work when he became national security adviser.