Sentencing of ex-Trump aide Michael Flynn postponed
Federal judge accuses US President's first national security adviser of betraying the American flag by working for a foreign government
A federal judge delivered an extraordinary public dressing down to Michael Flynn, US President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, on Tuesday accusing him of betraying the American flag by working for a foreign government.
Mr Flynn appeared in a Washington court to receive what was expected to be a lenient sentence for lying to prosecutors but instead asked for a delay in proceedings.
He pleaded guilty in December 2017 for concealing that he had discussed US sanctions against Russia with Sergei Kislyak, the then Russian ambassador to Washington, according to his plea deal.
Prosecutors suggested he need not go to prison after offering his cooperation.
But as he weighed the charges, Emmet Sullivan, US District Judge, also raised the fact that Mr Flynn had failed to register this work for the Turkish government while part of Mr Trump’s team.
“You were an unregistered agent of a foreign country while serving as the national security adviser to the president, said Emmet Sullivan, US District Judge. “That undermines everything this flag over here stands for. Arguably, you sold your country out.”
The delay means he will not now be sentenced until at least March.
Mr Trump’s woes intensified on Tuesday as he agreed to shut down his personal charity amid allegations that it was used for his personal and political benefit and his former national security adviser received an extraordinary dressing down in court.
Barbara Underwood, New York's attorney general, and the Trump Foundation filed a joint stipulation with the court laying out a process for dissolving the charity and distributing its remaining assets to other non-profit groups.
New York filed a lawsuit last spring accusing the foundation of operating like an extension of Mr Trump's businesses and political campaign. That suit will continue.
Lawyers for the foundation insist any infractions were minor and say they have been trying to shut down the foundation voluntarily for months.
"This is an important victory for the rule of law, making clear that there is one set of rules for everyone," said Ms Underwood in a statement.
"We'll continue to move our suit forward to ensure that the Trump Foundation and its directors are held to account for their clear and repeated violations of state and federal law."
The lawsuit accused Mr Trump of illegally using the charity's money to settle disputes involving his business empire and to boost his political fortunes during his run for the White House, including by giving out big grants of other's people money to veterans' organisations during the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, the first presidential nominating contest of 2016.
But it was Mr Flynn who was top of the news agenda on Tuesday. Mr Flynn is the fourth defendant in the Mueller probe to have been sentenced. Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s former personal attorney, George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the 2016 campaign, Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch lawyer, each pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and received prison sentences.
The end of 2018 has been marked by three weeks of bombshell moments for Mr Trump and his team.
Taken together, the latest twists reveal how almost every aspect of the president’s campaign and time in office is now under investigation – from his business affairs to his close associates. Wired magazine counted 17 different investigations.
Two new investigations have revealed how Moscow’s operatives used social media to target African-Americans and suppress turnout among Democratic voters.
Those efforts started earlier than previously understood and continue today with websites and online accounts targeting Mr Mueller, according to the reports prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee.
One post on a Facebook page entitled ‘Merican Fury, for example, claimed falsely that Mr Mueller had worked in the past with “radical Islamic groups”.
Adam Schiff, the most senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said every concerned American should read the reports.
“Russian efforts to manipulate Americans through social media are sophisticated, cynical, effective and very much ongoing,” he said. “Russia seeks to divide us among racial, ethnic and political fault lines.”
The scale of that operation was laid bare in two reports – one by social media analysts New Knowledge and the other by an Oxford University team working with analytical firm Graphika - that examined online Russian attempts to influence the election.
The researchers analysed more than 10 million posts to understand how the Russian government's Internet Research Agency, based in St Petersburg, tried to manipulate American politics.
They included stoking “secessionist movements” in California and Texas, according to the New Knowledge report.
“The most prolific IRA efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted black American communities and appear to have been focused on developing black audiences and recruiting black Americans as assets,” the report says.
Oxford/Graphika said the content included messages urging black voters to boycott the election as well as misinformation about voting procedures to suppress turnout for Hillary Clinton, while also encouraging Right-wing voters to be more confrontational.
The new details build on a US intelligence report that last year concluded that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, directed a campaign to undermine Mrs Clinton’s chances of election victory.
Mr Trump has always denied any collusion with the Russian regime.
On Tuesday, he tried to shift focus, accusing social media platforms of working against him.
“Facebook, Twitter and Google are so biased toward the Dems it is ridiculous! Twitter, in fact, has made it much more difficult for people to join @realDonaldTrump,” he posted on Twitter.
Yet analysts said it beggared belief that he and his supporters were unwilling to acknowledge the way Russia had exploited American democracy.
“Like all great enemies, like all great foes, they found a way to find our greatest strength our greatest weakness, which is our essential openness in a technological and digital sense,” John Meacham, a presidential historian, told MSNBC’s Morning Joe show.
“They are taking advantage of the American ethos of free expression to conduct a concentrated propaganda campaign on behalf of a particular person and that particular person’s political agenda.”
Updated: December 18, 2018 10:27 PM