Ex-Trump Aide Michael Flynn Tries to Withdraw Guilty Plea

Edvard Pettersson and Andrew Harris

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn accused prosecutors of pressuring him to lie under oath and told a judge he wants to withdraw his guilty plea to the charge he lied to federal agents.

Flynn “exercised his right to move to withdraw his plea of guilty because the government has engaged in bad faith and vindictive conduct,” breaching a plea deal made when Flynn first conceded the charge in late 2017, defense attorney Sidney Powell said in a statement Wednesday morning, calling her client “innocent.”

Late Tuesday, Powell filed papers with U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington seeking the plea withdrawal and asking for a postponement of Flynn’s Jan. 28 sentencing. Earlier this month, prosecutors asked the court to impose a jail term as long as six months, claiming Flynn had stopped cooperating with them. The U.S. had previously been content with a probationary sentence.

It’s very hard to withdraw a guilty plea, said Stephen Braga, who chairs the white-collar criminal defense practice at Bracewell LLP. In court, Flynn twice admitted his guilt and acknowledged he knew what he was doing and wasn’t under pressure when he entered his plea.

Read More: Prosecutors Attack Flynn’s ‘Extraordinary Reversal’ on His Guilt

“The primary difficulty in establishing a substantial claim of innocence for a defendant who has pled guilty is the fact that the defendant has already admitted his guilt under oath in the plea proceeding before the very same judge who is now asked to rule upon the motion to withdraw,” Braga said.

Former Chicago federal prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer said Flynn is probably playing to an audience of one. The president can pardon him.

“If you’re looking for a pardon, the success of this argument doesn’t really matter,” said Cramer, now a managing director with Berkeley Research Group LLC.

“I intend to have him exonerated or case dismissed,” Powell said in an email. “PERIOD. I want THE TRUTH.”

Powell previously tried, unsuccessfully, to get the case against her client dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct.

Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to federal agents about his contacts with Sergey Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., after Trump won the 2016 presidential election and before he took office. While Trump made Flynn his first national security adviser, that assignment lasted just three weeks before reports that Flynn had made misleading statements about his actions prompted his ouster.

Flynn was initially set to be sentenced in December 2018, but that proceeding went awry after his initial defense counsel suggested he’d been tricked by the agents who questioned him, prompting Sullivan to ask the retired general anew whether he was guilty. Flynn affirmed that he was.

Read More: Flynn Should Get Jail, U.S. Says in Turnabout

The punishment date was then postponed so Flynn could complete his cooperation with prosecutors, who were preparing their case against a former Flynn business partner accused of illegally lobbying on behalf of Turkey.

According to Powell, with whom Flynn replaced his original legal counsel in June, in the course of preparing for that trial against Bijan Kian, prosecutors demanded Flynn admit to knowingly signing a false Foreign Agents Registration Act form.

“He rightly refused to lie for the government, and his new counsel would not allow him to do so, nor allow the government to bully him into acquiescence,” his lawyers wrote.

Flynn asked the judge to delay his sentencing to Feb. 27. The government doesn’t oppose the delay, he said. It’s unclear whether the judge will agree.

In 2018, the government had recommended Flynn get probation based on his cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. In a filing last week, prosecutors said actions and comments by Flynn and his lawyer since his last sentencing hearing in 2018 “negate the benefits of much of the defendant’s earlier cooperation.” They said they no longer believed he deserved credit for accepting responsibility for his actions.

The case is U.S. v. Flynn, 17-cr-232, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

(Updates with Powell’s comment in second section)

To contact the reporters on this story: Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at epettersson@bloomberg.net;Andrew Harris in federal court in Washington at aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Glovin at dglovin@bloomberg.net, Peter Jeffrey

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