What Michael Flynn's memo means: Today's talker

After prosecutors on Mueller's team released a memo on Michael Flynn's cooperation, some call it a 'nothingburger'; others aren't so sure.

Prosecutors from special counsel Robert Mueller's team released a memo Tuesday night detailing the level of cooperation offered by former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Don't try to read the tea leaves

By Tyler Grant 

Special counsel Robert Mueller filed a sentencing memo on Tuesday in the criminal case against President Donald Trump's former adviser Michael Flynn. The memo recommends no jail time, due to Flynn's substantial cooperation with the special counsel's office — and its release sent the news media into a tizzy.

But this recommendation is neither groundbreaking nor resolving of the inquiry.

Let's not forget some important factors: the crime committed, the memo’s recommendation and how similarly situated defendants have been sentenced. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The federal sentencing guidelines for Flynn's offense include a custodial sentence ranging from zero to six months. The plea deal was made with the understanding Flynn would cooperate with the special counsel's office and help its investigation into the Trump presidential campaign.

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This gives us a basis for comparison: Under this same investigation, two others have agreed to plead guilty to the same charge and were sentenced to just a month and two weeks in jail. The recommendation for Flynn by Mueller's team is not a deviation from its methodology so far and appears both appropriate and proportional given Flynn's apparent level of cooperation.

No one but Mueller’s team knows what will be in its final report. While it's tempting on both sides of the political aisle to read the tea leaves from this sentencing memo, we must understand this doesn't prove anything more than that Flynn met his obligations under his plea deal with the government. Unless Flynn had reneged on cooperating, the government was likely going to make this recommendation. The information that Flynn has offered could be explosive or could be a "nothingburger" — the sentencing memo doesn't prove one way or the other. Really, it's just a step the government had a duty to take to round out the investigation.

We already suspect — with some evidence — that other criminal charges are looming on the horizon for other actors in this Russia drama, the fruit of which may have come from Flynn's cooperation. But it's prudent to wait patiently for the outcome, and avoid drawing too many conclusions from an investigation in which the outcome will have cascading political implications for years to come.

Tyler Grant is a Young Voices contributor and lawyer in Washington, D.C. You can follow him on Twitter: @The_Tyler_Grant. 

What our readers are saying

Special counsel Robert Mueller was tasked with finding collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election. He hasn't delivered. 

— Robert Dow

Let's wait and see exactly what this confessed traitor (Flynn) gave up. If it was damning information about President Donald Trump and his family, along with Vice President Mike Pence, I'm OK with Flynn walking free.

— Ian Blake

All this bickering, deflecting and finger-pointing is irrelevant. Let's just wait and see what Mueller actually brings to the table.

— Rich Barnes

Flynn should never have pleaded guilty. He did nothing wrong. I think he had every right to talk to the Russians after Trump got elected, as he was on the transition team. Mueller's team probably threatened him for him to flip.

— John James

What others are saying

Jennifer Rubin,  The Washington Post: "You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that a witness does not meet with federal prosecutors 19 times for nothing. Michael Flynn's 'substantial assistance' with investigations into communications with Russia and the transition team with the approval of a high-level official (Jared Kushner, perhaps?) goes to the heart of a possible 'collusion' — call it conspiracy — case. ... Moreover, special counsel Robert Mueller is ensuring that both Congress and the public get a good sense of the seriousness of the investigation and the evidence out there that might implicate the president."

Gregg Jarrett,  FoxNews.com: "There are other reasons to believe that Flynn’s 'substantial assistance' to the Mueller investigation had nothing to do with 'collusion' with the Russians. He was never charged with the underlying crime, whatever that is. Moreover, since Mueller is moving ahead with sentencing (recommendation), he will not be using Flynn as a witness. This indicates that Flynn has nothing of significance that would be useful in any potential prosecution. Flynn should never have been prosecuted."

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.,  Twitter: "The recommendation of no jail time for Flynn, apart from its obvious irony for the man who led chants of 'lock her up,' reflects both the timeliness and significance of his help. That most of the details are redacted signals he has given far more than we or the president may know."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What Michael Flynn's memo means: Today's talker