The Slatest

Former Top-Ranking Security Official in U.S. Admits Under Withering Questioning That He Knew Lying to the FBI Was Bad

Individuals with flexible work schedules gather outside federal court in Washington on Tuesday. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

In late 2017, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn agreed to plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his phone calls with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 presidential transition period.

The obvious explanation for why Flynn lied is that he was trying to cover up the fact that he and other Trump officials, possibly including Trump himself, had undermined the Obama administration’s imposition of economic sanctions against Russia while Obama was still in power—a move that could have been part of a quid pro quo with the enemy state that had just helped Trump win the election. A rich vein of right-wing commentary, however, has since suggested that what really happened is that the FBI Deep State tricked and entrapped Flynn into a slight misstep of memory so that unscrupulous thugs like James Comey and Robert Mueller could blackmail him into denouncing our great president. Figures like Fox News talking head Jeanine Pirro and conspiracy enthusiast Jack Posobiec had even convinced themselves that federal Judge Emmet Sullivan might toss Flynn’s case out of court when he appeared for sentencing Tuesday morning:

That theory took a hit when documents unsealed Monday indicated that Flynn’s lies to FBI agents were actually quite extensive—that he didn’t just deny speaking to Kislyak about sanctions but in fact created an entire false cover story (which is apparently disproven by confidential phone intercepts and other documents) about not having known that sanctions were a pressing U.S.-Russia issue at all.

The theory took an even bigger hit Tuesday when Flynn appeared in court and Sullivan asked him and his lawyers directly about suggestions, made not just by right-wing pundits but by Flynn’s own lawyers in a request for sentencing leniency, that he had been mistreated by the FBI because its agents didn’t instruct him to have a lawyer present for his interview or warn him that lying to federal investigators is a crime.

Sullivan went on to note that Flynn has also admitted to lying about working as an unregistered agent of the Turkish government in 2016. “Arguably, you sold your country out” said the judge, who added that he felt “disgust” and “disdain” regarding Flynn’s lies to investigators.

So, it didn’t go great for Flynn, to the extent that the judge offered him the chance to delay sentencing further in order to, essentially, continue earning brownie points by cooperating further in the federal investigation into Turkey’s covert influence campaign. (Mueller’s team had actually suggested a sentence that didn’t include jail time, but Sullivan didn’t appear eager to be so lenient.) Flynn, after conferring with his lawyers, agreed to the delay; he’s due in court again on March 13.