Michael Flynn’s lawyers dismiss his Turkey lobbying admissions as ‘meaningless’
The defense team for former national security adviser Michael Flynn is dismissing admissions he made as part of his guilty plea two years ago that he provided false information to the Justice Department about work he did for Turkish interests while serving as a top adviser on the Trump campaign in 2016.
Flynn’s attorneys argued in a court filing Monday that a judge’s decision overturning a jury’s guilty verdicts on related charges against Flynn’s business partner Bijan Rafiekian last week “renders meaningless” the concessions Flynn made under oath during his December 2017 guilty plea.
The argument from Flynn’s defense is the latest salvo in its unusual battle to demolish the criminal false-statements case against the retired general and Defense Intelligence Agency chief without formally withdrawing his guilty plea and exposing him to the possibility of additional charges.
Flynn’s new submission again suggests that prosecutor Brandon Van Grack, who handled the case for special counsel Robert Mueller’s office and remains on it via special assignment from the Justice Department, bullied Flynn into his plea, which was made after protracted negotiations between Flynn’s Washington defense attorney at the time, Robert Kelner.
Earlier this year, Flynn shifted to a new defense team led by a prominent Mueller critic, Dallas attorney Sidney Powell, who has taken a more combative approach to the case.
“The government did not indict the specious Rafiekian case until more than a year after the Flynn indictment — just a few days before Mr. Flynn was to be sentenced in this Court — when the government was concerned that Mr. Flynn would withdraw his plea,” Flynn’s defense team wrote.
Flynn had been expected to be the prosecution’s star witness against Rafiekian, but after a blowup with Powell, prosecutors shifted course and dropped him as a witness.
“Mr. Van Grack was determined that Mr. Flynn would testify in the Rafiekian case that he had knowingly signed a false [Foreign Agents Registration Act] registration, even though Mr. Van Grack knew that was not true and Mr. Flynn had not agreed to that in the course of his plea agreement,” Flynn’s attorneys wrote. “Mr. Flynn’s refusal to get on the witness stand and lie for the government on that point prompted a heated tirade from Mr. Van Grack with Mr. Flynn’s lead counsel, in which Mr. Van Grack claimed Mr. Flynn had agreed to plead to a knowing and intentional false FARA filing.”
Last month, Powell and her colleagues asked U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to compel the disclosure of dozens of categories of information that the defense said could expose prosecutorial misconduct, including that Flynn was tricked into his guilty plea and making the key statement that triggered the prosecution: his denial to the FBI in January 2017 that he had discussed the issue of sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the transition.
Sullivan met privately with Flynn’s new defense team earlier this month and has scheduled a hearing for Nov. 5 on their motion for so-called exculpatory information.
Flynn had been set for sentencing last December on the single false-statement felony charge he pleaded guilty to almost two years ago. Mueller’s team had not recommended he serve jail time because of his cooperation with the government. Sullivan postponed the sentencing at Flynn’s request so he could testify in the Rafiekian case. He never did, although his new attorneys stressed in the filing Monday that he was willing to do so.
In the ruling last week, a federal judge in Alexandria, Va., ruled that the evidence and testimony prosecutors introduced at Rafiekian’s July trial was too weak to support the guilty verdicts a jury took less than four hours to return against the Iranian-American businessman on charges of acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Turkey in the U.S. and conspiring to file a false report with the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act office.
Prosecutors convinced jurors that Rafiekian knew he was acting on behalf of Turkey during the summer and fall of 2016, when the Flynn Intel Group accepted a $600,000 contract to shape the opinion of U.S. leaders and the American public to encourage the extradition to Turkey of a longtime Turkish dissident cleric who has lived in Pennsylvania for two decades, Fethullah Gulen.
Rafiekian’s defense maintained that the work was actually done for a company owned by a Turkish businessman who was charged in the case but remains at large, Ekim Alptekin. Emails and Skype chats shown at the trial indicated that Alptekin said he was coordinating with the Turkish government.
Flynn is now set for sentencing on Dec.18, but if Sullivan grants Flynn’s demand for access to a slew of Mueller-related records, that hearing would almost certainly be postponed again.
Spokespeople for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington and for the Justice Department’s National Security Division did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday night.
However, a key prosecution response to Flynn’s demand for extensive, wide-ranging additional disclosures about the Mueller investigation and other matters is due by noon Tuesday.