In ordinary circumstances when a defendant pleads guilty to a charge, the prosecutor’s work largely is done, except for making a sentencing recommendation.
But apparently not when the defendant is former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and the prosecutor is Robert Mueller, appointed as special counsel to investigate claims of Russia interference in the 2016 election.
Mueller released an indictment Friday naming 13 Russian nationals and three organizations that allegedly used American social media and held campaign rallies to create chaos in the American election. The Justice Department said no one in the Trump campaign knew that the defendants were Russians.
Flynn pleaded guilty in December to a count of lying to the FBI.
The Washington Examiner’s Byron York pointed out the unusual developments in the Flynn case since his plea.
For one thing, Judge Rudolph Contreras, who started out on the Flynn case, suddenly was removed.
“The new developments might add up to very little or they might be significant,” York commented. “In any event, they are raising eyebrows.”
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Contreras was replaced by Judge Emmet Sullivan, known for finding that the Justice Department had improperly withheld exculpatory evidence in the 2009 case against Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.
Stevens was convicted of corruption in October 2008, which caused him to lose his bid for re-election, and in 2009 the DOJ dropped the case.
York recalled that Sullivan “ripped into the Stevens prosecutors with an anger rarely seen on the bench.”
“Sullivan was furious that the federal government had repeatedly withheld evidence from the Stevens defense and has been known ever since as a justice who is a stickler for making sure defendants are allowed access to all the evidence they are entitled to.”
Now Sullivan is on the Flynn case and, acting on his own, he ordered the office of special counsel Mueller “to produce to [Flynn] in a timely manner – including during plea negotiations – any evidence in its possession that is favorable to defendant and material either to defendant’s guilt or punishment.”
Moreover, the judge ruled such information would be submitted to the court.
“In other words, Sullivan declared that he, not Mueller, would be the judge of what evidence should be produced,” York explained.
He quoted Andrew McCarthy of National Review, a former federal prosecutor, who said it “certainly appears that Sullivan’s order supersedes the plea agreement and imposes on the special counsel the obligation to reveal any and all evidence suggesting that Flynn is innocent of the charge to which he has admitted guilt.”
There’s been no closure to the case, and some analysts even have raised the possibility that the guilty plea will be withdrawn.
“Fast forward to Wednesday. Prosecutors and the defense submitted to Sullivan a proposed order limiting the use of any new evidence produced by the government. The evidence can be used by Flynn’s defense ‘solely in connection with the defense of this case, and for no other purpose, and in connection with no other proceeding,'” York explained.
“Is there actually not-yet-produced evidence that might help Flynn? If so, would it have any effect on the case in which Flynn has already pleaded guilty? And would it have any effect on the larger Trump-Russia investigation?” he questioned.
When the judge in the case was changed, a court spokeswoman said the reason for such changes is generally not discussed.
Flynn’s alleged lie during questioning by the FBI is a process crime and sheds no light on the underlying Democrat claims that the Russians colluded with the Trump campaign.
WND reported the media jumped on a statement on Trump’s Twitter account that the president was aware that Flynn had lied to the FBI regarding a conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
But that social media statement came from Trump’s attorney John Dowd, not the president.
McCarthy argued that that crucial point was being ignored.
He also pointed out there was reporting “at the time” that the FBI had determined Flynn had told the truth about his conversations, and “to the extent that there may have been any discrepancies, it was because of honest confusion rather than criminality.”