Judge excoriates Flynn, delays sentencing

CNN's Jessica Schneider reports.

Posted: Dec 19, 2018 3:25 PM
Updated: Dec 19, 2018 3:50 PM

Almost daily, reality deals another blow to the alternative narrative that President Donald Trump has constructed around his scandal-plagued presidency, campaign and business legacy.

On Tuesday, in a courtroom cliffhanger, Michael Flynn effectively eviscerated the President's claims that the former national security adviser was trapped into lies and flipping on his boss under unfair FBI intimidation.

In another stain on the reputation of the President, the Trump Foundation agreed to disband following a suit that alleged that Trump and his elder children used it to enrich themselves.

And in another possible blow to Trump, a federal appeals court compelled an unnamed company owned by a foreign country to comply with a subpoena suspected to be related to the Russia investigation, four days after a mystery hearing.

Such events would provoke immense uproar in any other presidency and might rank as the most dramatic scandals of a commander in chief's term.

For Trump, they were just the latest blows and legal reverses in days of deeply damaging revelations about the President, after special counsel Robert Mueller broke his midterm campaign hiatus.

Trump has seen his claims that he had no business interests in Russia debunked by disclosures about his proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow. Mueller's filings make it clear, despite Trump's claims, there were contacts with Russians. And he has been indirectly implicated in a campaign finance crimes involving hush payments to women he lied about.

In many ways, Tuesday's developments simply thickened the cloud of suspicion and legal peril that has engulfed all aspects of Trump's personal, political and business life.

And they indicate that while Trump's rhetorical assaults on the FBI and Mueller may fly on conspiratorial conservative media and with his core political support, they are prone to dissolve in the reality-based situation of a courtroom.

'I am not hiding my disgust'

In Tuesday's hearing, Judge Emmet Sullivan repeatedly stressed the gravity of Flynn's crimes. He originally and mistakenly said that Flynn had worked as an unregistered agent for the Turkish government during his brief tenure at the White House, saying such behavior was arguably tantamount to selling his country out.

He later corrected himself to reflect the fact that Flynn's undisclosed lobbying for Turkey ended before he joined the White House in January 2017. But Flynn was on Turkey's payroll while he advised Trump during the campaign. The contract ended while Flynn was a senior member on Trump's transition team.

There was no mistaking the judge's attitude towards the former general's conduct.

"I am not hiding my disgust, my disdain for your criminal offense," Sullivan said.

Solomon Wisenberg, a former deputy counsel in the Clinton-era Whitewater affair, told CNN that Sullivan decided not to ignore the larger political reality around the case framed by the President's attacks on the administration of justice.

"The idea that his comments have not been affected by the President of the United States and his campaign of vilification is far fetched," Wisenberg said.

"He is affected by that and I think it is proper for him to take that into consideration in terms of what he publicly says," he said.

Tuesday's sentencing proceedings for Flynn was expected to be a routine affair since Mueller had requested he serve no jail time for lying to the FBI, given his "substantial" cooperation with the Russia probe.

Heading into the hearing, Trump and his supporters were touting a story that Flynn was a victim and not a criminal, maintaining that he was railroaded by the FBI when questioned about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Before the court sat, Trump tweeted good luck to Flynn and claimed he had been under "tremendous pressure" from federal authorities.

But Sullivan appeared to take exception to such arguments, since he required Flynn to state clearly in court that he was standing by his guilty plea. His move followed a filing by Flynn's lawyers last week in which they complained that their client had been pressed by then then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe not to have a lawyer present during his FBI interview.

Sullivan asked Flynn's attorney Robert Kelner if his client was "entrapped" by the FBI and the attorney replied: "No, your honor."

"Are you continuing to accept responsibility for his false statements?" Sullivan asked, before Flynn broke in with the words: "I am, your honor."

"I would like to proceed, your honor," Flynn said in a later exchange.

"Because you're guilty of this offense?" Sullivan asked.

"Yes, your honor," Flynn replied.

Flynn, a career US government servant and military officer who rose to head the Defense Intelligence Agency, also told the court that he knew that lying to the FBI was a crime when he did it.

Tuesday's hearing came a day after the release of a Mueller memo detailing Flynn's interview with FBI agents in which the then-national security adviser lied about his contact during the presidential transition in 2016 with then-Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.

The official court document also shows no evidence that there was any attempt to entrap Flynn or sense that his rights were being violated.

The message did not reach the White House, which stuck to outdated talking points contradicted by the facts. In a rare press briefing, Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders kept faith with her boss' alternative universe.

She stood by a previous statement that the FBI had "ambushed" Flynn and broken protocol by not conducting the interview in the presence of a lawyer and used the White House podium to launch a new attack on the law enforcement agencies of which the President is the titular head.

"We don't have any reason to walk that back," she said, while distancing the President from any lies told by Flynn.

At the end of Tuesday's hearing, Flynn and his lawyers agreed to a delay in his sentencing until March, after apparently concluding that the judge, who was deeply perturbed by Flynn's crimes, intended to send him to jail.

That grace period will allow Flynn even more time to add to his 19 meetings with Mueller's team -- a further flashing danger sign for Trump emerging out of Tuesday's events.

There is, so far, no public evidence that Trump either ordered Flynn to lie or directed the contents of his conversations, on issues including Russian sanctions and a vote on Israeli settlements at the UN, with Kislyak.

If the President ends up being accused of cooperating with Russia in election meddling or obstructing justice, after asking FBI chief James Comey to go easy on Flynn, and then firing Comey, he will have a chance to mount a formal defense.

But there is still no answer as to why Flynn, who spent months at Trump's side, chose to lie to the FBI about his chats with the ambassador of a state that he knew had been accused by US intelligence of meddling in the election.

That riddle may have to await Mueller's final report.

Charity as check book

As is often the case for Trump, bad news came on several fronts Tuesday.

His personal charitable foundation agreed to dissolve in the face of claims that the President and his three eldest children -- Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric -- violated campaign finance laws and abused its tax-exempt status.

Instead of operating a genuine charity, the lawsuit alleged, the family allowed it to be used "as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump's business and political interests."

Under the terms of the lawsuit that is to continue, New York state is seeking $2.8 million in restitution, plus penalties, and a ban on Trump and his children serving on the board of any other New York nonprofit.

"It is extraordinary," Anne Milgram, a former New Jersey attorney general, told CNN's Jake Tapper.

"What the AG is saying is that they have failed in the fiduciary duties to the non profit organization in such an enormous way that they are not qualified to sit on the board of any non profit or charity in the state of New York."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 291891

Reported Deaths: 6605
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19470226
Hinds18555383
Harrison16385273
Rankin12498260
Jackson12401216
Lee9635160
Madison9353193
Jones7836144
Forrest7055135
Lauderdale6735225
Lowndes5989137
Lamar579379
Lafayette5688113
Washington5124128
Bolivar4567120
Oktibbeha438091
Panola424092
Warren4091113
Pearl River4070127
Pontotoc406066
Marshall397992
Monroe3971125
Union391372
Neshoba3746166
Lincoln343799
Hancock337773
Leflore3346118
Sunflower315785
Tate299172
Pike297792
Scott291367
Alcorn289760
Itawamba288471
Yazoo282662
Tippah275265
Copiah273357
Coahoma272265
Simpson269278
Prentiss267158
Leake250870
Wayne250140
Marion249478
Covington246277
Grenada244576
Adams232374
George229545
Newton222551
Winston220174
Tishomingo210965
Jasper210343
Attala205669
Chickasaw200250
Holmes181470
Clay177348
Stone170729
Tallahatchie169039
Clarke167671
Calhoun155327
Smith151131
Yalobusha141936
Greene126333
Walthall123040
Noxubee122429
Montgomery120537
Perry120133
Lawrence118420
Carroll117123
Amite110632
Webster108629
Jefferson Davis99831
Tunica97923
Claiborne97329
Benton92524
Humphreys91226
Kemper89222
Quitman76614
Franklin75319
Choctaw69316
Wilkinson62226
Jefferson60827
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 488973

Reported Deaths: 9660
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson703321342
Mobile35725716
Madison32088437
Tuscaloosa23913404
Montgomery22369481
Shelby21714209
Baldwin19554263
Lee14827147
Morgan13529243
Etowah13091309
Calhoun13063281
Marshall11197202
Houston10019255
Limestone9303130
Elmore9283179
Cullman8856176
St. Clair8747214
Lauderdale8541209
DeKalb8419173
Talladega7424161
Walker6466240
Jackson6450101
Autauga614384
Blount6058125
Colbert5973118
Coffee522299
Dale4606106
Russell400530
Franklin396575
Covington3918105
Chilton380096
Escambia375970
Tallapoosa3533138
Clarke342348
Dallas3385139
Chambers3382102
Pike292471
Lawrence280685
Marion277492
Winston244563
Marengo243454
Bibb243259
Geneva238168
Pickens223453
Barbour208450
Hale208064
Fayette198755
Butler194865
Henry181741
Cherokee175737
Monroe165538
Randolph161240
Washington155832
Crenshaw143052
Clay142554
Macon140344
Cleburne136139
Lamar130632
Lowndes130148
Wilcox120525
Bullock116033
Conecuh106423
Perry104927
Sumter98231
Greene86732
Coosa86323
Choctaw54723
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