Prosecutors from the team of special counsel Robert Mueller wanted Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to testify to something that isn’t true, Flynn’s lawyers said. When he refused, they tried to label him a co-conspirator in a case where they previously said he was only a witness.
A federal judge denied the prosecutors’ move, saying the government didn’t present enough evidence to introduce Flynn’s statement as one of a co-conspirator.
Flynn, former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, is expected to face a light sentence after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and after extensively cooperating with the Mueller team and the Justice Department. He was also expected to testify on another case of making false statements on foreign lobbying registration forms.
In his November 2017 guilty plea, he said that the forms submitted by lawyers for his now-defunct lobbying company, Flynn Intel Group (FIG), contained false and misleading statements. The prosecutors, however, recently asked him to testify that he signed those forms knowing about the falsities and intending for them.
“Mr. Flynn cannot give that testimony because it is not true,” Flynn’s recently hired lawyers, Jesse Binnall, Sidney Powell, and William Hodes, said in a July 8 court filing.
They said Flynn only acknowledged in his plea the falsities “with some hindsight.” At the time of signing the forms, in March 2017, Flynn only read the cover letter and didn’t know about or intend for anything false in them, they said.
“Mr. Flynn trusted his former counsel who held themselves out as experts in this area of law,” the filing stated.
The forms pertained to a lobbying job FIG did in 2016 for a Dutch consulting firm, Inovo BV, owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin.
FIG was paid $535,000 to research Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania. Gulen runs a group that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan blamed for an attempted 2016 coup.
FIG’s work culminated with an op-ed published in The Hill under Flynn’s name, arguing for Gulen’s extradition, a goal sought by Erdogan. Flynn shut down his firm upon Trump’s election victory in November 2016.
Alptekin has ties to Erdogan and FIG falsely stated in its lobbying forms that it “did not know whether or the extent to which the Republic of Turkey was involved in the Turkey project,” said Flynn’s statement of offense accompanying his plea.
Alptekin, as well as Flynn’s former partner, Bijan Rafiekian, were charged with false statements on the forms and for conspiring to act as unregistered foreign lobbyists.
Flynn was supposed to testify on the case. But after Flynn’s lawyers made clear he couldn’t say what the Mueller team wanted him to say, the prosecutors suddenly changed their minds, dropped the testimony, and instead tried to label Flynn a co-conspirator.
“The government’s reversal … sounds alarm of possible retaliation,” Flynn’s lawyers said, protesting the co-conspirator designation.
U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga ruled in their favor on July 9, saying prosecutors failed to provide evidence “sufficient to establish by a preponderance of the evidence a conspiracy for the purposes of admitting against the Defendant the hearsay statements of alleged co-conspirators.”
After his guilty plea, Flynn extensively cooperated with the government on multiple investigations, providing dozens of hours of testimony and tens of thousands of documents. In the end, prosecutors recommended a low sentence for him, including no prison time.
Yet when Flynn refused to provide what his lawyers said would be false testimony, the Mueller team “seemed to double-down,” Flynn’s filing stated.
When his lawyers presented notes to back up their argument during a June 27 meeting, a “heated exchange” ensued with one of the Mueller lawyers, Brandon Van Grack, the filing stated.
A week later, on July 3, one of the government lawyers, Evan Turgeon, questioned Flynn’s former lawyer, Robert Kelner. But instead of confronting Kelner with the notes presented by Flynn’s new counsel, “Mr. Turgeon carefully worded his questions to elicit responses from former counsel that the notes … actually contradict,” Flynn’s filing stated.
Minutes after the interview, James Gillis, assistant U.S. attorney, called Flynn’s new lawyers “only to notify us that he would not be calling Mr. Flynn as a witness, and that counsel would be receiving a gag order that prohibited us from disclosing that fact,” the filing stated.
Gillis, however, failed to mention that the prosecutors had also decided to re-cast Flynn as a co-conspirator, the lawyers said.
Also that same day, an FBI agent called Flynn Jr., who used to work for FIG but wasn’t charged in the Turkey case. The agent questioned Flynn Jr. “despite knowing that he was represented by counsel,” the filing stated. “The Agent persisted in trying to speak with him even after he said to call his attorney.”
The Mueller team may have previously threatened to implicate Flynn’s son in the case as a form of leverage against Flynn, opined former FBI agent and Epoch Times contributor Marc Ruskin.
Several weeks before Flynn signed his plea, a NBC News article stated that Flynn Jr. “could be indicted separately or at the same time as his father, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.”
“If the elder Flynn is willing to cooperate with investigators in order to help his son, two of the sources said, it could also change his own fate, potentially limiting any legal consequences,” the article stated.
Such an under-the-table deal would be “unethical,” Ruskin said in a previous interview.
“To twist the father’s arm with regard to his child is a pretty low thing to do, but we’ve seen low things done in these cases,” he said.
Flynn’s filing says that his former lawyers had to file the lobbying forms “under extreme and unprecedented pressure from” David Laufman, then-head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division (NSD).
Flynn’s filing included extensive notes and communications that indicate his former lawyers at first weren’t convinced the lobbying registration was necessary.
Alptekin had ties to the Turkish government, but there was no indication Turkey was paying for the job. The lawyers considered that Alptekin may have hired FIG for economic reasons, not on behalf of the government.
Judge Trenga’s ruling indeed banned the prosecutors from claiming to the jury “that Turkey, in fact, funded the work by Flynn Intel Group” through the FIG-Inovo contract.
Rafiekian’s lawyers even argued that the pertinent statement in the lobbying forms, that FIG “did not know” whether Turkey was involved, was misstated in Flynn’s plea. The form actually said that FIG didn’t know whether Turkey “was involved with its retention by Inovo.”
Flynn’s former lawyers eventually decided to file the forms since it was more likely that Alptekin acted on political, rather than economic, motives when hiring FIG.
The lobbying forms actually disclosed that Alptekin consulted the project with Turkish officials and introduced the officials to FIG.
“Former counsel had to make difficult judgement calls, and they did so with input from the NSD itself,” Flynn’s filing stated.
Laufman resigned “for personal reasons” on Feb. 8, 2017, a few weeks after Trump’s inauguration.