Lawyers for former national security adviser Michael Flynn are asking a judge to spare him prison time, citing his acceptance of responsibility and extensive cooperation with authorities, which spanned more than 62 hours and included turning over "sweeping categories" of documents and electronic devices.
The attorneys are requesting that Flynn receive no more than one year of probation, with minimal supervision, and 200 hours of community service.
"On the day he entered his guilty plea," wrote defense attorneys Robert Kelner and Stephen Anthony, "he said he was 'working to set things right.' He has done so."
The document filed late Tuesday includes character references praising Flynn's 33-year military career, including four Bronze Stars and other recognition. Retired Gen. Jack Keane credited Flynn with revolutionizing the way the military used intelligence in the wars after September 11, 2001. Flynn rose to lead the Defense Intelligence Agency but left in a shakeup by the Obama administration.
The court filing includes some new details about how Flynn came to lie in a Jan. 24, 2017, interview with FBI agents at the White House. The lawyers said Flynn received a call out of the blue from then-deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. The two men discussed a recent training session, then McCabe said two FBI agents would need to sit down with Flynn to discuss his contacts with Russian officials. Flynn agreed to the meeting without having a lawyer present.
Less than two hours later, FBI agent Peter Strzok and another agent arrived for the interview. The agents later said Flynn was relaxed and offered to give them a tour of the West Wing of the White House. Flynn's lawyers said he did not receive a warning about the penalties for making a false statement.
Those penalties are now all too clear. Under advisory sentencing guidelines, Flynn is facing between zero and six months in prison. Lawyers working for special counsel Robert Mueller praised Flynn for his fulsome cooperation with issues core to the investigation into Russia's attack on the 2016 election and whether any Americans connected to the Trump campaign aided in that conspiracy. The prosecutors added last week that they believed Flynn should serve little or no prison time.
Flynn's lawyers said he recognized that lying to the FBI about his contacts with the former Russian ambassador in late 2016 was wrong. And, they said, even after President Trump and Republicans in Congress accused former FBI deputy director McCabe and former agent Strzok of wrongdoing, Flynn refused to pile on or back out of his plea deal. Both McCabe and Strzok were fired, just as Flynn was forced out of the White House under circumstances that remain murky.
Flynn's legal team said they had reviewed 13 similar false-statements cases over the past decade, finding only two where prison time was imposed on defendants. Both of those men were prosecuted by the special counsel, as well. Lawyer Alex van der Zwann served 30 days. Former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos left prison on Friday after completing his 14-day sentence. Neither of those men cooperated as Flynn did, his lawyers said.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Michael Flynn is asking for no prison time. That is a request made by lawyers for the former national security adviser. In 2016, Flynn was a retired general passionately supporting Donald Trump for president. He led chants of lock her up regarding Hillary Clinton on live TV at the Republican convention. In 2017, he served as national security adviser for 24 days. He later pleaded guilty about, a year ago, to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians. So what's the case not to lock him up? NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is here. Hi there, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INKSEEP: What does the court filings say from Flynn's lawyers?
JOHNSON: Basically, Michael Flynn's lawyers say he's a good man who made a bad choice. They talk about how Flynn has 33 years of military service, including five years in combat zones, that he received a lot of commendations and that once he made a bad choice, he tried to make it right, that he's been cooperating extensively with the special counsel, 19 meetings, over 62 hours, telling them firsthand details about the term transition, contacts with Russians and a whole bunch of other stuff.
INKSEEP: You said made a bad choice. In this sentencing document, is Flynn taking full responsibility for that choice to lie to the FBI?
JOHNSON: You know, the lawyers say he is taking responsibility for making a bad decision and breaking the law, but then they go on to cite a couple of very interesting paragraphs - the circumstances surrounding his January 27 interview with two FBI agents in the White House. The lawyers talk about how then-FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe called Flynn up on the phone. They were chatting. McCabe said, listen; we got to ask you some questions about Russian contacts. I'm going to send some agents over there. You can have a lawyer, but it'll be complicated and take time. And Flynn says, no, no, just send them over. And so Flynn, in a very relaxed way, offers to give these FBI agents a tour of the White House, then talks to them, and in the course of that interview, he lied about his contacts with the then-Russian ambassador in late 2016 in the course of the term transition.
INKSEEP: Are they saying that by waving off a lawyer, he somehow innocently was trapped into lying? Is that where they're going with this?
JOHNSON: The lawyers don't go so far as to mount some kind of entrapment case, but they are offering some suggestions if the judge who's ultimately going to sentence Mike Flynn next week wants to grab at those. Of course, President Trump and some of his allies have been beating up on the FBI since 2016. Remember; the FBI deputy director, Andy McCabe, was fired by the Trump administration, as was another agent who actually participated in Lynn's questioning, Peter Strzok. So if the judge wants to go there, this may come up at the sentencing next week.
INKSEEP: Now, we should note something else that you said is in that document - 33 years of military service. This is something that has been noticed by the prosecutors also. I believe there was a document from the prosecutors the other day where they said that Flynn was different than a lot of the other people or even every other person that they've had to deal with in that he has so many years of meritorious service.
JOHNSON: Absolutely. Flynn has a pretty sterling government record before this bad incident and that although two people prosecuted by the special counsel team for lying to the FBI have served some prison time - 30 days or 14 days in the case of George Papadopoulos - Michael Flynn truly cooperated with authorities. And authorities say they'd be OK if he served little or no prison time. He's asking for probation.
INKSEEP: One other Michael to ask about - Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer. He's sentenced today. He's likely to get some jail time?
JOHNSON: Very different situation. Prosecutors in New York say he deserves substantial prison time, that he did not come clean with them.
INKSEEP: Carrie, thanks for the update, appreciate it.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
INKSEEP: That's NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson.
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