A Harvard Law expert says former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn probably will not spend a day in jail for lying to FBI agents — and that may say a lot about what he had to offer prosecutors investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“It is striking that he is just being charged with one count when there has been so much discussion of other crimes,” said Harvard Law School professor Alex Whiting, a former federal prosecutor whose career has also included leading prosecutions at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
“Ordinary practice is to require cooperators to plead guilty to all the crimes they have committed and reward them at sentencing,” he said. “The fact that Flynn is being permitted to plead to just one count of lying suggests . . . that Flynn has very significant information to provide.”
In exchange for his cooperation, “it is virtually certain that Flynn will not spend a day in jail,” Whiting said in an e-mail.
Legal experts say it is common practice for prosecutors to reach plea agreements with lower-level players in a crime in exchange for the defendants “cooperating up” — providing evidence on others higher up in the chain. It’s not clear who Flynn might be able to provide incriminating evidence on.
Flynn has pleaded guilty to one count of lying to FBI agents about conversations with the Russian ambassador that happened after President Trump’s stunning victory in the 2016 election but before Trump took office.
Flynn was apparently intent on hiding the content of his conversations, which had to do with sanctions then-President Obama had placed on Russia and a UN Security Council vote critical of Israel.
Flynn spoke to a “senior official” on the transition team about the former conversation and was directed by a “very senior member” of the team to make the latter contact with the ambassador, according to documents filed by prosecutors in federal court.
Recent media reports have said investigators have looked at other actions by Flynn, including whether he participated in a plot to kidnap a reclusive cleric in Pennsylvania and return him to Turkey for the Turkish government in exchange for millions of dollars.
Flynn was also seen to be in legal trouble for lying about other work he did for the Turkish government. In court documents filed Friday, prosecutors said he lied to cover up that work, but the prosecutors did not bring an additional charge against him for it, and, in fact, the plea agreement promised he would not be charged for that.
Whiting also said Flynn’s cooperation and the possibility he has evidence on higher-ups cast a new light on Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey.
Comey, who was conducting an investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, said in bombshell congressional testimony in June that Trump had asked him to drop the Flynn investigation in February. Comey was fired in May.