Donald Trump suffered a double setback on Tuesday as his former national security adviser Michael Flynn was accused of selling out his country in court and it emerged the president’s charity will be dissolved amid claims of “shocking” illegality.
Mr Flynn, who has admitted to lying to the FBI over his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States, was reprimanded for his “very serious” offence during a sentencing hearing in Washington DC.
In a blistering rebuke, Emmet Sullivan, a US District Judge, told to Mr Flynn that “arguably you sold your country out”, later adding: "I'm not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offence."
At one point the judge even asked prosecutors whether Mr Flynn’s actions could be considered treason, though later walked back the remarks by clarifying that he was not making that suggestion himself.
Judge Sullivan also hinted that he was considering giving Mr Flynn a stint in jail despite his co-operation with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Russian election meddling investigation – something that seemed unlikely at the start of the day, given Mr Mueller was calling for leniency.
Eventually the judge delayed the sentencing, indicating that he wanted to fully understand the extent of Mr Flynn’s cooperation with Mr Mueller’s team. No new date was set but a status report is due on March 13 2019.
The courtroom dressing down was another blow for Mr Flynn, a retired US general who became one of Mr Trump’s most prominent supporters during the 2016 presidential campaign.
He was handed the plum role of Mr Trump’s first national security adviser in January 2017 but was forced to resign just weeks later over his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, then Russian ambassador to the US.
Mr Flynn has admitted to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with Mr Kislyak during the transition period after Mr Trump’s November 2016 election victory but before he took office. During that time Barack Obama remained US president.
Mr Trump had wished Mr Flynn "good luck" earlier in the day. "Will be interesting to see what he has to say, despite tremendous pressure being put on him," he said in a tweet.
On the same day Mr Flynn was being criticised in court there were new developments in a lawsuit filed against the president’s charity, the Trump Foundation.
Barbara Underwood, the New York attorney general, announced that the Trump Foundation had agreed it should be dissolved and its remaining funds handed out to other charities, with her office overseeing the process. The deal needs to be approved by a federal judge.
It follows a string of Washington Post stories in recent years claiming that money from the charity had been used to pay legal settlements for Mr Trump’s private business or purchase art from his clubs. Mr Trump has always denied wrongdoing.
He had planned to close down the embattled charity in December 2016 after he won the US election but the move was put on hold pending this investigation.
Mrs Underwood's office begun legal action in June against Mr Trump, his three children - who were on the board - and the charity itself, over accusations of misuse of funds.
She said on Tuesday that her investigation found “a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation — including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more.”
Mrs Underwood is continuing to seek more than $2.8 million (£2.2m) in restitution and has asked a judge to ban the Trumps temporarily from serving on the boards of other New York nonprofit organisations.