Special counsel Robert Mueller filed his sentencing memo on retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn on Tuesday 4 December, recommending no prison time for the single count of giving false information. Flynn pleaded to that count in 2017. We had an update on Mueller’s potential readiness to go to sentencing in September, but the sentencing move today seems to have come out of the blue.
Mueller cited Flynn’s cooperation with the special counsel investigation, which he characterized as “substantial assistance,” in the sentencing document.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is recommending no prison time for retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, citing the former national security adviser’s “substantial assistance” in his ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“Given the defendant’s substantial assistance and other considerations set forth,” the special counsel wrote, “a sentence at the low end of the guideline range—including a sentence that does not impose a term of incarceration—is appropriate and warranted.”
The mainstream media reaction has been muted so far, which is interesting. It is also interesting, of course, that after threatening to go after Flynn’s son, keeping Flynn dangling for so many months, and having to be ordered by a federal judge to turn over all potentially exculpatory material to Flynn’s defense (because the judge thought he hadn’t), Mueller has rather suddenly decided to make a humane sentencing recommendation without further delay.
It’s been hard to read the tea leaves on what Mueller’s doing with his probe, and this move doesn’t make it easier. Three weeks ago, the drumbeat from Democrats was incessant: the Mueller investigation had to be “protected” (i.e., from being shut down by acting Attorney General Whitaker or by Trump). Yet we were also hearing every other day that the investigation was being wrapped up, and we could expect a report within weeks, if not days.
Indeed, the ineffable Senator Flake of Arizona has been holding up judicial nominations in the Senate in a bid to force his fellow senators to pass some piece of legislation designed to “protect” the Mueller probe.
Meanwhile, reports continue this week that Mueller is wrapping things up. The sentencing memo for Flynn seems to indicate that Mueller doesn’t see a need to keep holding a hammer over Flynn, and is ready to move on from that prosecutorial dynamic.
Does that mean Mueller will have turned in his report and concluded his investigation before the Democrats assume the House majority in the next Congress?
It’s hard to say. There’s an outside chance that what’s going on here is driven by events we have little apprehension of. Blogger Jeff Carlson, who has done a lot of superb analysis of Russiagate, suggested pretty much that in a must-read article on 30 November. His clues were the odd, in some cases seemingly unaccountable actions taken by the FBI and DOJ last week, including the raid on Clinton Foundation whistleblower Dennis Nathan Cain, and a separate federal raid on the offices of a Chicago alderman. Carlson didn’t speculate at length, but a possibility clearly raised by his treatment is that those moves, and others that may follow, have been set up by whatever former AG Jeff Sessions was doing over in East Purgatory for the last 18 months.
For reasons I will lay out in a separate post, I think there may be something to that, or at least to the theory that there’s something going on beyond the Russiagate narrative we’ve been focused on. The tentative conclusion would be that Mueller wasn’t especially motivated to end his investigation before those moves started happening, in the final week of November – but now he is.
We’ll see where it all goes. The FBI says there’s nothing Russiagate-related about the just-announced retirement of Peter Strzok’s one-time boss, Bill Priestap. But the timing is interesting. The report of DOJ IG Michael Horowitz on his “Spygate” inquiry – the probe into the conduct of “Crossfire Hurricane” – is also thought to be coming soon, possibly before Christmas. Perhaps it’s all feeling “wrap-up-y.” Andrew McCarthy has certainly been predicting all along that Mueller’s goal was to present a report as his final product – something the House could use at its discretion to take political action against Trump – and not a legal case.
That said, the old spidey-sense isn’t convinced we’re seeing the end of this. At least Michael Flynn’s well-wishers can rejoice with him and his family that he should know by Christmas what his sentence will be, and that there’s every reason to hope he can put this behind him.