Just days after the Justice Department reversed course to recommend up to six months of prison time in his case, more than a year later after pleading guilty and offering to cooperate, Donald Trump’s first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, has requested to withdraw his guilty plea. Flynn and his attorneys are arguing that he’s been the victim of an “overzealous” Justice Department that has operated in “bad faith.”
This move by Flynn’s new legal team comes just as Judge Emmet Sullivan bumped Flynn sentencing date — which was originally set to be Jan. 28 in a D.C. federal court – to Feb. 27. If Sullivan ultimately allows Flynn to withdraw his guilty plea, that sentencing date will likely be scrapped altogether, and the case could presumably head to trial.
Flynn’s move on Tuesday to withdraw his guilty plea came just days after the Justice Department reversed course to recommend up to six months of prison time in his case, alleging he was not fully cooperating or accepting responsibility for his actions.
Some experts say that the move amounts to a Hail Mary pass that has the potential to backfire and place Flynn in greater legal peril.
“This is a risky maneuver,” said Jeffrey Harris, a former federal prosecutor in New York, who was deputy associate attorney general during the administration of President Ronald Reagan.
“If Judge Sullivan were to allow him to do it — and I don’t think he will — and he loses [at trial], he’s toast,” Harris said.
However, Flynn’s legal team said he had to move to withdraw his plea “because of the government’s bad faith, vindictiveness and breach of the plea agreement.”
In the filing requesting the withdrawal of the plea, Flynn’s attorneys wrote, “The prosecution has shown abject bad faith in pure retaliation against Mr. Flynn since he retained new counsel. This can only be because with new, unconflicted counsel, Mr. Flynn refused to lie for the prosecution.”
The filing continued: “Justice is not a game, and there should be no room for such gamesmanship in the Department of Justice.”
Flynn’s case stretches back more than two years. He pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, in the weeks before Trump took office.
The allegations surfaced months earlier, prompting Flynn to resign as national security adviser after 24 days, the shortest tenure in the office’s history.
At his original sentencing hearing in December, Judge Sullivan rejected claims from Flynn’s lawyers that he was pressured to plead guilty to lying to federal investigators about his contacts with the Russian diplomat. His lawyers also had claimed the government withheld critical evidence that may have favored their client.
The dramatic hearing ended with Flynn’s taking up the judge on his offer to provide more time to offer further assistance. Flynn’s new defense team immediately went on the attack and pushed for the case to be thrown out, accusing the government of having targeted Flynn for political purposes and having coerced him into making false statements.
“It’s been one atrocity after another,” Sidney Powell, one of Flynn’s lawyers, said on Fox News’ “Hannity” on Tuesday Jan.14, “The recent sentencing note is full of lies.”