Dec 18 2018

Sentencing postponed after Flynn promises further cooperation in Turkey probe

Mueller’s probe into questionable practices by members of Trump’s campaign team has expanded from an investigation of links to Russia into a broader investigation that includes the aforementioned Turkey links. When Mueller’s office released a heavily redacted copy of its sentencing recommendation for Flynn earlier this month, commentators in the United States speculated that one of three investigations the former general was cooperating with could relate to Turkish meddling in the election.

The sentencing of General Michael T. Flynn, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser has been postponed at the defendants request after a bruising day at court that raised the possibility of a prison sentence.

Flynn left the court on Tuesday afternoon after reportedly offering to cooperate further with U.S. prosecutors in their investigations, which will include investigations into illegal lobbying for Turkey directed by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, an associate of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and a former employer of Flynn.

As Flynn left the District of Columbia courthouse, he was met by competing chants of “lock him up” and “USA” from opponents and supporters of Trump – an indication of how politically charged the trial of the president’s former security adviser has become in the United States, where both sides anxiously await further details from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump electoral campaign.

While Trump wished Flynn “good luck” in a tweet on Tuesday morning, by midday the former general was facing a sustained and humiliating tirade from the presiding judge, Emmet G. Sullivan, who said Flynn had “arguably” betrayed his country, and warned that if he did not further cooperate in investigations he would face possible jail time.

“I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense,” Judge Sullivan said.

The offense in question was lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about a conversation he had held with Russian Ambassador Kislyak in December 2016. The conversation, Flynn later admitted, had included discussion of sanctions placed on Russia by the U.S. administration at the time, led by Barack Obama.

Flynn has admitted that he knew lying to the FBI amounted to a crime.

Further investigations of Flynn revealed that he had been working as an undeclared agent for Turkey in November 2016, having been paid around $500,000 to lobby against Fethullah Gülen.

The Islamist preacher, a resident in Pennsylvania, leads a movement that Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has accused of a string of crimes culminating in the failed July 2016 coup attempt.

The money was paid by Alptekin, a former chairman of the influential Turkish American Business Council. Alptekin was indicted by a court in Virginia on December 12 for “covertly and unlawfully” conspiring with Flynn’s business partner, Bijan Kian, “to influence U.S. politicians and public opinion concerning a Turkish citizen living in the United States” – a clear reference to Gülen.

On Tuesday Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, specifically referred to this case, which was unsealed yesterday, when discussing the further cooperation Flynn had promised. 

White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders faced questions on Flynn's day at court, with journalists seeking a response to Judge Sullivan's suggestion that the lobbying activities could constitute treason.

Judge Sullivan eventually retracted that statement and apologised, but it proved irresistible for journalists at the White House press briefing on Tuesday. Sanders sidestepped the question before launching criticism of former FBI director James Comey, who she said had broken protocol in his questioning of Flynn.

Sanders went on to tell journalists that Trump had made no promises to Turkey on the extradition of Gülen except that he would "take a look at" the matter. Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said on Sunday that Trump had promised Erdoğan to extradite Gülen during the G-20 conference in Argentina at the beginning of the month.

Mueller’s probe into questionable practices by members of Trump’s campaign team has expanded from an investigation of links to Russia into a broader investigation that includes the aforementioned Turkey links. When Mueller’s office released a heavily redacted copy of its sentencing recommendation for Flynn earlier this month, commentators in the United States speculated that one of three investigations the former general was cooperating with could relate to Turkish meddling in the election.