Whatever hopes people had that Judge Sullivan was going to be annoyed at the FBI/DOJ’s procedural irregularities died as Judge Sullivan instead suggested that General Flynn had betrayed his country, asked the prosecution if treason charges had been considered (a remark he subsequently withdrew) and refused to rule out jail time. As he did this the Judge got Flynn on record as knowing that lying to the FBI was wrong, not believing he had been entrapped and insisting on pleading guilty even when offered the chance to change his plea.
Then, weirdly, the judge offered to postpone the sentencing indefinitely with a status update in 90 days. Apparently, this will allow Flynn to further co-operate with Special Counsel and give Judge Sullivan all the more reason not to jail Flynn.
Frankly, the indefinite postponement seems off to me. As does Flynn’s repeated assurance to the judge that he really does want to plead guilty. As Eli Lake points out at Bloomberg, “Nearly two years after the FBI trapped Flynn, the crime the Justice Department was investigating remains unknown. If it turns out that the reason Flynn was a target is as flimsy as violating the Logan Act or not being candid with his colleagues, then that itself is a scandal.”
I suspect Flynn wants to plead guilty because he has been threatened with a whole set of other indictments if he does not. Those, in turn, would cost millions to fight. And they might well involve his family as well. Purely as a matter of self-preservation, Flynn might believe he needs to plead.
The postponement of actual sentencing makes less sense. Mueller has already made his case for no jail time. Flynn is already a co-operating witness on a bunch of matters which – while well outside the scope of any proper Russian collusion investigation – Special Counsel is pursuing.
The delay may, however, give Flynn the opportunity to reconsider his plea agreement and to consider the foundation of the case against him per Eli Lake above. The only reason Flynn was in Court today is that he lied to FBI agents who, apparently, just dropped by the White House on instructions from Andrew McCabe – a now disgraced Deputy FBI Director. Why were they there? Why did they not follow standard protocols when dealing with the White House or with a represented person? As Lake asks, what crime were they investigating?
The foundations of the entire Special Counsel/FBI/DOJ operation against Trump, his campaign and his White House has always been vulnerable to attack on the basis that there is a lack of a foundational crime for the FBI/DOJ to have been investigating going all the way back to 2015 when, apparently, FBI/DOJ people began circling Trump. Back then there was no need for an actual crime because the tools being used were counter-intelligence rather than criminal.
The counter-intelligence investigation, as Andrew McCarthy has pointed out, morphed into a criminal investigation with the appointment of Mueller. But that appointment did not, in fact, create a criminal predicate.
While Flynn co-operates with the SC office on matters having nothing to do with the mandate of that office, he and his lawyers have the opportunity to rethink his case and their approach to it.
Reading Sullivan’s remarks and questions in Court today I get the sense that this rethinking was what the Judge had in mind as he systematically tore down the “Logan Act” premise and the “treason” premise by asking the prosecutor whether those charges had been contemplated.
Judge Sullivan also poked and prodded both Flynn and his counsel. The line “You sold out your country” (despite being entirely unwarranted on the facts before the Judge which he later admitted) was, in my view, meant to anger Flynn, get him to fight. So were the Judge’s remarks on the possibility of jail time.
Whether or not Flynn will be sufficiently provoked to rethink his position is hard to say. He’s been pretty badly beaten up by the process and couldn’t be blamed for simply walking away. But many things can change in 90 days.