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Mueller sent a clear message with Michael Flynn sentencing memo

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Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

  • The special counsel Robert Mueller sent a big message this
    week: cooperate with investigators and they’ll show you leniency.
    Refuse, and they’ll bite back.
  • Mueller’s office recommended little to no jail time for
    former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who they said
    provided “substantial assistance” to multiple ongoing
    investigations, including the Russia probe.
  • Flynn’s sentencing memo was heavily redacted, but one DOJ
    veteran said that “if you read around all that black ink, Mueller
    did say enough to let us know this: Flynn gave up the goods, and
    Mueller’s work is far from over.”
  • President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, also
    pleaded guilty in the Russia probe last week and has shown a keen
    willingness to tell prosecutors everything he knows.
  • Cohen’s and Flynn’s cases stand in stark contrast to that of
    former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who prosecutors
    accused of breaching his plea deal and committing additional
    crimes after pleading guilty.

The special counsel Robert Mueller sent a clear message this
week: cooperate with investigators and be forthcoming about what
you know, and they’ll show you leniency. Refuse, and they’ll bite
back.

Late Tuesday, prosecutors filed a highly anticipated sentencing
memorandum in the case of former national security adviser
Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI.

In it, they recommended that Flynn get little to no jail time,
citing the “substantial assistance” he provided to the special
counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016
election, as well as other, separate ongoing investigations.

Flynn was among the first defendants to plead guilty in the
Russia probe and has been cooperating with Mueller for over a
year. His sentencing was delayed five times after prosecutors
said they needed more information from the former national
security adviser, who also served as a key adviser to President
Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

In their Tuesday filing, prosecutors emphasized that Flynn began
cooperating early, that his assistance was critical in
encouraging other witnesses to come forward and be candid, and
that he helped the investigation in several ways.


Michael Flynn
Michael Flynn.
Jonathan
Ernst/Reuters


‘Flynn gave up the goods’

In typical fashion, Mueller’s office revealed very little
information, if any, about the specifics of what Flynn told them.
Prosecutors also attached a largely-redacted 6-page addendum to
the sentencing memo laying out how Flynn had cooperated in what
appears to be a separate investigation not being conducted by
Mueller’s office.

In the original sentencing memo, prosecutors laid out the crux of
what Flynn was charged with: his lies to the FBI about
conversations he had during the transition period with
then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about US sanctions on
Russia.

But that’s not the only thread of which Flynn may have had
valuable information.

The former national security adviser was also not forthcoming
about his involvement in three key areas: his now defunct
lobbying firm’s work for the Turkish government in 2016, his
efforts with Russia and Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear reactors
in the Middle East, a project that would have benefited from the
US lifting sanctions on Russia, and payments he received from the
state-owned media outlet Russia Today that he failed to disclose
when he applied to renew his security clearance in January 2016.

Flynn was also a participant in a controversial meeting with
Kislyak and senior adviser Jared Kushner during the transition
period, in which Kushner reportedly discussed setting up a secret
back channel between the Trump team and Moscow using Russian
diplomatic facilities.


Mike Flynn Jared Kushner Ivanka Trump Steve Bannon Reince PriebusMario Tama/Getty Images

And he served as an adviser to the campaign when Kushner, then
campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Donald Trump Jr. met with
two Russian lobbyists offering dirt on the Hillary Clinton
campaign. The meeting, which took place at Trump Tower in June
2016, is a key investigative focus for the special counsel and
congressional committees.

Flynn’s sentencing memo said he provided “firsthand information”
about contacts between Russian officials and members of the Trump
transition team.

“We do not yet know everything about Flynn’s cooperation,” said
Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor from the Southern
District of New York, in an interview with INSIDER. “The heavy
redactions in the filing hide nearly all the details that Mueller
provided to the court.”

Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at Cornell Law School and an expert
on criminal law, echoed that view.

“There is more to come, but we don’t know what that is,” told
INSIDER. The substantial redactions in Flynn’s sentencing memo
indicate that the targets of other investigations he’s cooperated
with have not yet been charged, he said. “It could be a reference
to an obstruction of justice investigation, possibly involving
the president, but we don’t really know. So this is a known
unknown.”

Honig emphasized, however, that “if you read around all that
black ink, Mueller did say enough to let us know this: Flynn gave
up the goods, and Mueller’s work is far from over.”


Paul Manafort with Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller
Paul
Manafort with Trump senior adviser Stephen
Miller

Drew Angerer/Getty
Images


‘Manafort tried to play both sides and got caught’

To be sure, Mueller recently secured a guilty plea from another
crucial player: Trump’s former longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael
Cohen, who pleaded guilty last week to one count of lying to
Congress in 2017.

Like Flynn, Cohen has signaled a willingness to tell prosecutors
everything he knows in exchange for leniency. His first meeting
with Mueller came in early August, before he pleaded guilty to
separate charges in a Manhattan US attorney’s office
investigation into his and Trump’s financial dealings before the
2016 election.

Cohen has voluntarily met with Mueller’s team, New York
prosecutors, and investigators in the New York attorney general’s
office several times since, his lawyers said.

They also dropped a number of bombshells about what Cohen knows
in a sentencing memo they filed on his behalf last week. Cohen
has asked for an early sentencing date so he can go about
rebuilding his life, his lawyers said, but that does not signal
that he doesn’t want to help the investigation.

On the contrary, they said, “he expects to cooperate further.”

Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12
years at the Justice Department, told INSIDER the fact that Cohen
and Flynn both pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and have
cooperated extensively is a key indication that Mueller is
gaining traction.

“When you see people pleading guilty or getting indicted on
similar facts, that’s when you start building a path forward as a
prosecutor,” he said. 


Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen.
Drew
Angerer/Getty Images


The Cohen and Flynn memos stand in stark contrast to what
prosecutors said about Manafort, whom they accused last month of
breaching his plea deal by lying to investigators after pleading
guilty and allegedly committing more crimes. They were also
reportedly furious when they learned that Manafort’s lawyers were
regularly in touch with Trump’s lawyers about what Manafort was
being questioned about.

Prosecutors are expected to lay out Manafort’s alleged misdeeds
in intricate detail in a court brief Friday. And Politico
reported that the special counsel is weighing putting Manafort on
trial again in the wake of his decision to breach his plea deal.

“Even if Manafort decides to cooperate now, there’s no chance
Mueller accepts it because he’s basically a useless witness,”
Cramer said. “Cohen fell on his sword and has shown that he’s a
valuable cooperator. Manafort tried to play both sides and he got
caught.”

Trump, for his part, has defended Manafort extensively in recent
days and praised his refusal to cooperate with Mueller. And
experts say a presidential pardon may be Manafort’s last hope
after his plea deal fell through.

“He’s like a guy at the casino table who’s lost all his money at
craps,” Cramer said. “And now he heads to the ATM to try to turn
things around. Donald Trump is basically the ATM.”

Grace Panetta contributed reporting.

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