WASHINGTON - Robert Mueller, the U.S. special prosecutor in charge of the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, recommended Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn face no jail time due to his “substantial” cooperation with the investigation.
Mueller said in a court document that Flynn, who admitted last year to lying about his contacts with Russians in the weeks after Trump’s November 2016 election victory, had helped in his and other unspecified federal criminal investigations, including being interviewed 19 times.
In a memorandum to a Washington federal court on Flynn’s upcoming sentencing, Mueller also said that despite his “serious” offense, the retired three-star general and former Pentagon intelligence chief had a strong record of military and public service.
“Given the defendant’s substantial assistance and other considerations set forth below, a sentence at the low end of the guideline range — including a sentence that does not impose a term of incarceration — is appropriate and warranted,” the filing said.
The special counsel had postponed Flynn’s sentencing four times over the course of a year, suggesting that he had become a valuable witness.
Flynn’s was the first guilty plea secured by the Mueller investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s election campaign and Russia.
In an interview with investigators on Jan. 24, 2017, four days after Trump’s inauguration, Flynn lied to investigators about conversations he had the previous December with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak, in which Flynn appeared to be trying to undermine the policy of then-President Barack Obama.
Obama at the time was planning sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election.
Within weeks, Flynn was forced to resign after it was alleged that he lied to top White House officials as well about his Kislyak talks.
Then in March 2018, in a second interview with the FBI, Flynn also lied about the fact that before and after the election he had a $500,000 lobbying contract on behalf of Turkey that he had not reported.
The sentencing memorandum gave no hint as to what Flynn had told the Mueller team about the operations of the Trump campaign and its Russia contacts.
But as an insider in the campaign and a key go-between with Russian officials, he could have provided significant material.
An addendum to the memorandum was heavily redacted, suggesting that Flynn not only aided Mueller but also other federal criminal investigations not yet public.
Those potentially could include an examination of Trump’s financial ties to Russia through his real estate business.
The filing illustrates the breadth of information Mueller has obtained from people close to Trump as the president increasingly vents his anger at the probe — and those who cooperate with it.
This week, 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 confidant Roger Stone for saying he wouldn’t testify against Trump.
It’s unclear if Trump will now turn his fury on Flynn, whom Trump bonded with during the 2016 campaign.
Trump has repeatedly lamented how Flynn’s life has been destroyed by the special counsel’s probe. At one point, he tried to protect Flynn by asking former FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into his alleged false statements, according to a memo Comey wrote after the February 2017 encounter.
That episode, which Trump has denied, is being scrutinized by Mueller as he probes whether the president attempted to obstruct the Russia investigation.
Flynn’s case has stood apart from those of other Trump associates, who have aggressively criticized the investigation, sought to undermine it and, in some cases, been accused of lying even after agreeing to cooperate.
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 Flynn, was denied probation because prosecutors said his cooperation was lacking.