Michael Flynn re-emerges as major witness in Robert Mueller's inquiry – and at least two others
WASHINGTON – Among the blacked-out court papers outlining the extensive cooperation Michael Flynn provided to Russia special counsel Robert Mueller is a powerful acknowledgment that President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser assisted not only Mueller’s inquiry but at least two other investigations.
The subjects of the investigations were not identified, nor did the documents elaborate on Flynn’s specific contributions.
The court filing, however spare, signals that the retired Army lieutenant general – who had largely faded from the public stage since his guilty plea last year – is likely to play an increasingly larger role as the investigations shadowing the Trump administration grind to a conclusion.
The sensitive nature of Flynn's cooperation, prosecutors said, required that the details remain under seal, adding that the "benefit may not be fully realized at this time because the investigations in which he has provided assistance are ongoing."
"The defendant provided first-hand information about the content and context of interactions between the (Trump) transition team and Russian government officials," the court documents state.
Mueller's conclusions, legal analysts said, probably served as a blunt warning to members of the administration who worked closely with the national security adviser and were consulted on his Russian contacts, specifically involving Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Flynn's cooperation was secured last year as part of his guilty plea to lying to the FBI in part about his pre-inaugural contacts with Kislyak related to sanctions imposed by the Obama administration for Russia's interference in the 2016 campaign.
"The message that this sends, given Flynn's central role in the transition (to the Trump administration), is that if transition members are not fully lawyered-up yet, they should do so now," said Ilene Jaroslaw, a former federal prosecutor who once worked closely with Mueller's top aides in the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's Office. "This document, even though it is heavily redacted, speaks louder than any public statement or press conference could ever accomplish."
Particularly striking, Jaroslaw said, was the reference to the scope of Flynn's cooperation, which was provided during the course of 19 separate interviews with Mueller's team during the past year.
Jaroslaw said the number of interviews, though substantial, was not necessarily surprising, given Flynn's central role as a foreign policy adviser during the campaign and during his brief time as national security adviser.
Mueller's team probably needed broad access to Flynn as it sought to corroborate the testimony of other witnesses. Indeed, in the 17 months since Mueller was appointed to lead the investigation, his prosecutors, including Andrew Weissmann, have established a hard-charging reputation in dealing with cooperating witnesses.
"You have to remember that Andrew (Weissmann) flipped 'Sammy The Bull,' " Jaroslaw said, referring to Gambino crime family boss-turned-informant Salvatore Gravano.
Though little is publicly known about Flynn's role as witness in the two other investigations referenced in the court documents, former Chicago federal prosecutor Greg Deis said Mueller's reference to them "clearly telegraphs to those who do know about these cases that there are others in the crosshairs."
Deis said the documents, in addition to informing Flynn's sentencing judge about the level of his cooperation, serve as a public appeal for other potential witnesses to come forward.
Mueller's recommendation that Flynn serve no prison time, Deis said, sends a message that "there can be a significant upside" to cooperating with the special counsel.
Deis said that message is particularly timely, given the collapse of Mueller's cooperation agreement with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, prompting Trump to suggest Manafort could be eligible for a pardon.
Manafort, convicted of financial fraud, repeatedly lied to federal investigators after agreeing to cooperate with Mueller's team in September, prosecutors said.
"That (pardon discussion) was likely not lost on the special counsel," Deis said.
David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in Miami, said the Flynn memo revealed how a witness can benefit.
“The message that it sends is that if (cooperation) comes in early, if you accept responsibility for what you’ve done and you’re truthful about what your cooperation is ... you’re going to be rewarded for that,” Weinstein said.