The Justice Department has doubled down on its prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, amid the debacle over the Trump administration softening its stance in court toward Roger Stone, another close associate of President Donald Trump.
Prosecutors wrote in a new court filing on Wednesday that federal Judge Emmet Sullivan should deny Flynn’s request to change his 2017 guilty plea to not guilty.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the then-Russian ambassador in the early days of the Trump administration. He now says he’s innocent, is attempting to avoid being sentenced and claims investigators acted inappropriately to force him into a plea deal.
Prosecutors from the DC US Attorney’s Office and an alum of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team who now oversees federal prosecutions of foreign lobbying cases make clear in the latest Flynn filing that they are not softening their position toward him. They also defend their work in cutting his deal, which Flynn has tried to claim as misconduct.
“The defendant does not identify government misconduct in this case, and certainly not conduct that is ‘outrageous’ or ‘grossly shocking,’ ” prosecutors Brandon Van Grack and Jocelyn Ballantine wrote in the filing Wednesday, which is also signed by recently appointed DC US Attorney Tim Shea.
Flynn has no scheduled sentencing date. His sentencing is on hold as the prosecutors and his lawyers tangle over how much evidence they can use from his interactions with his former defense attorneys, who cut his plea.
Prosecutors have sent mixed messages in recent weeks about their intentions for Trump’s first national security adviser, much of it over whether Flynn deserves to serve time in prison for his crime.
In recent filings, the Justice Department appeared to waiver on seeking prison. But they also have harshly warned Flynn of the consequences he may face by switching his plea to not guilty, if the judge allows it.
The filing on Wednesday — again positioning prosecutors in opposition to what Flynn wants — came amid rising tensions between the attorney general and the Justice Department’s career prosecutors in Washington, including former Mueller prosecutors still at work on cases that originated with the special counsel’s investigation. The Justice Department’s new filing on Flynn seemingly popped up out of nowhere, many days before any statement from the department was due to the court in the case.
In recent weeks, the Justice Department’s approach to Flynn has created a debate between career prosecutors who want him to serve prison time and top political officials at the Justice Department, who advocated for probation only. Attorney General William Barr was angry, for instance, when prosecutors asked the judge in January to consider prison for Flynn, because Barr had thought his underlings wouldn’t advocate for that.
Flynn does not want to go to prison at all, and his supporters and family members regularly tweet asking for help from the President and from Barr.
Separately from Flynn, Justice Department officials lessened their prison-time recommendation for Stone this week. That intervention from the attorney general and those around him, following a tweet from the President sympathizing with Stone, prompted the four prosecutors on the case to resign on Tuesday. Stone is set to be sentenced next week for lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing a congressional committee proceeding.
The prosecutors on the Flynn case are different from the prosecutors in Stone’s, but the lawyers have worked closely together in the past.
Flynn faces a likely sentence of zero to six months in jail.