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Judge Postpones Sentencing of Michael Flynn After Harshly Rebuking Him



michael flynn

A federal judge transformed a seemingly straightforward sentencing hearing for Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser, into a dramatic showdown on Tuesday, expressing “disgust” at Mr. Flynn’s efforts to mislead federal investigators and dismissing suggestions he had been treated unfairly.

In an extraordinary two-hour session in Federal District Court in Washington, the judge, Emmet G. Sullivan, left no doubt that he viewed Mr. Flynn’s crimes as serious enough to warrant prison time despite a recommendation from prosecutors that he receive a lenient sentence.

But Judge Sullivan gave Mr. Flynn the option of postponing his sentencing so he had additional time to prove the value of his cooperation with federal prosecutors. Mr. Flynn promptly took up the offer, delaying a decision on his fate at least until March.

The hearing underscored the gravity of the inquiry by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and the enormous consequences for those ensnared in it.

Mr. Flynn, 59, a retired three-star general whose military career spanned 33 years, pleaded guilty a year ago to lying to F.B.I. agents about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in the month after Mr. Trump’s election. He also acknowledged that he lied in documents he filed with the Justice Department about his lobbying efforts on behalf of the Turkish government before the election.

“This is a very serious offense,” Judge Sullivan said. “A high-ranking senior official of the government making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation while on the physical premises of the White House.”

At one point, Judge Sullivan asked whether Mr. Flynn could have been charged with additional crimes. Later, he even raised and then dropped the prospect of a case for treason.

The judge also walked back another provocative statement he had made, saying he “felt terrible” that he had wrongly accused Mr. Flynn earlier in the proceeding of selling out his country by simultaneously working as a foreign agent for Turkey and Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. Mr. Flynn’s work for Turkey ended before he took up his White House post.

Even though prosecutors had said they would accept a sentence of probation, the judge warned Mr. Flynn that he could not guarantee that outcome. Advisory sentencing guidelines recommend a maximum sentence of six months in prison.
“I can’t make any guarantees, but I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense,” the judge said.

Before Tuesday’s hearing, Mr. Flynn and his lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, had implied in presentencing memos that the F.B.I. agents who had interviewed Mr. Flynn may have tricked him by failing to warn him that lying to investigators was a crime.

In raising the possibility of misconduct by the investigators, Mr. Flynn and his supporters further fueled efforts by Mr. Trump and some of his supporters to undercut the credibility of the special counsel’s investigation.

But under questioning by Judge Sullivan, Mr. Flynn acknowledged that he knew it was a crime to lie to the F.B.I. and he reiterated his guilt.

The presentencing memo from Mr. Flynn’s defense team had noted that F.B.I. agents had deliberately decided not to warn Mr. Flynn that lying to them was a criminal offense when they interviewed him in the West Wing on Jan. 24, 2017, four days after Mr. Trump’s inauguration.

The agents also told Mr. Flynn that notifying the White House Counsel’s Office would be time-consuming and prompt the Justice Department’s involvement.
That kicked off a public controversy about the F.B.I.’s conduct, with Mr. Trump insisting the law-enforcement authorities had wrongly cornered Mr. Flynn. It also inspired speculation that Mr. Flynn, whose lawyer at one point discussed a possible pardon with a lawyer for Mr. Trump, was inviting the president to spare him punishment.
Before the hearing, Mr. Trump wished Mr. Flynn “good luck,” saying he had been under “tremendous pressure.”

Even after it, Sarah Huckabee Saunders, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Flynn had been wronged. “What we do know,” she said, “is that the F.B.I. broke standard protocol in a way that they came in and ambushed General Flynn and in the way that they questioned him and in the way that they encouraged him not to have White House Counsel’s Office present.”

But in Judge Sullivan’s fourth-floor courtroom, Mr. Kelner said he was merely trying to show that Mr. Flynn had been held to a higher standard than two other people who had pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators for the special counsel: George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide, and Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch lawyer who worked with Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman. Both men were warned in advance not to lie to investigators and one brought a lawyer to his F.B.I. interview.

The judge speedily dismissed that comparison, repeatedly noting that Mr. Flynn was a high-ranking government official who had betrayed the government’s trust by lying “in the White House, in the West Wing.”

Although Judge Sullivan has a reputation for being hard on government misconduct, he found no fault with the conduct of the F.B.I. or prosecutors. He said Mr. Flynn deceived not only F.B.I. agents, but also senior White House officials, who then repeated his lies to the American public.

“This is a very serious offense,” he said. “This case is in a category by itself.”

At one point, he asked Brandon L. Van Grack, the lead prosecutor, whether Mr. Flynn was guilty of treason. The question clearly surprised a phalanx of lawyers on Mr. Mueller’s team who were present for the proceedings. Mr. Van Grack at first hesitated to answer, then later said the government had no evidence of treason, and the judge dropped the point.

Some of Judge Sullivan’s sharpest rebukes involved Mr. Flynn’s lies about his lobbying work for the Turkish government. Wrongly asserting that Mr. Flynn continued to work as an unregistered foreign agent during his short tenure as national security adviser, the judge gestured to the American flag at his side and declared: “I mean, arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for. Arguably, you sold your country out.”

For Mr. Flynn, who once led supporters of Mr. Trump’s campaign in chants of “lock her up” against Hillary Clinton, more uncertainty lies ahead. Although prosecutors said they had gleaned almost all they could from him, Mr. Kelner told the judge that Mr. Flynn wanted to postpone his sentencing to put himself in the best position “to eke out the last modicum of cooperation.”

Under his plea deal, Mr. Flynn met with investigators and prosecutors for the special counsel’s office 19 times. In doing so, he became an early cooperator in an investigation that has spun off criminal cases now in the hands of other federal prosecutors.

The special counsel’s office is investigating whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice, including by asking James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director at the time, to end the investigation into Mr. Flynn in early 2017. It is unclear whether Mr. Flynn knew about the president’s reported attempt to intervene on his behalf, or whether he has offered any insights on that front.

Prosecutors acknowledged that Mr. Flynn had helped the government secure an indictment in Northern Virginia against two of his former business associates for violating foreign lobbying rules. Prosecutors said the two men conspired with Turkey in 2016 to pressure the United States to expel a rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Although he could have faced additional charges in that case that carried up to 15 years in prison, prosecutors said, Mr. Flynn was being treated only as a witness.

How exactly Mr. Flynn’s lies hampered the special counsel’s inquiry into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election remained, for now, unclear. So did the precise reasons he lied.

Judge Sullivan explicitly warned Mr. Flynn that even if he could show further evidence of how much he had helped the special counsel’s office and the Justice Department, he might still sentence him to prison.

As Mr. Flynn left the federal courthouse, he faced a divided and raucous crowd in which some people yelled “U.S.A.” while others chanted “Lock him up.”


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Analysis: Deval Patrick revives debate over ‘electability’




deval patrick

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s late entry into the presidential race offers Democrats a fresh — and perhaps last — chance to reassess who they think is the strongest candidate to take on President Donald Trump.

It adds to the now months-long debate within the Democratic Party over “electability” less than three months before the first votes are cast. For a party that prides itself on diversity, the answers so far have been consistent and, to some, frustrating — a top tier dominated by white candidates, only one of whom is a woman.

But Patrick’s campaign is a reminder of the divergent paths to victory for presidential hopefuls. White candidates must prove they can win over black voters. Blacks and other minority contenders, however, must show they can build white support.

That type of multiracial coalition has eluded virtually everyone in the race except Joe Biden, who — for now — has deep support among black voters in addition to working-class whites. Those who assess that backing as soft, however, see an opening for a moderate candidate like Patrick, a black governor who made history winning in a majority-white state.

That, some strategists say, differentiates Patrick from Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, the two other major black candidates whose past electoral success has come in more diverse states and who are lagging in the presidential polls.

“Kamala Harris and Cory Booker are well-funded, high-profile black candidates, but have not been able to rise during a cycle where appeals to black voters are central to who will be the eventual winner of the primary,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. He said the election will confront what stigma still exists with white voters toward black candidates in the post-Barack Obama era.

“We can make the assumption that Patrick will be the next black candidate to face this test, but his appeal is altogether different than Booker and Harris,” Payne said. “The Patrick candidacy is an appeal to moderation and to the center-left more than a direct appeal to black voters.”

In 2008, then-Sen. Obama was the lone black candidate in the Democratic primary field and didn’t begin to gain momentum until the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, trailing Hillary Clinton and John Edwards for much of the contest. But Obama’s showing— winning an overwhelmingly white electorate — gave him momentum to convince black voters in South Carolina and across the Black Belt that he was viable.

Obama’s diverse coalition was a new blueprint in Democratic electoral mapmaking, earning him the party’s nomination and his history-making general election victory. Observers say it’s an electorate Democrats will have to replicate to win in 2020.

The trio of African Americans have taken different approaches in how they contend with the racial aspects of their candidacies.

Harris announced her candidacy on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and has unique status as an alumna of historically black Howard University, member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and the lone black woman in the 2020 fray.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker announced during Black History Month. The former mayor of Newark touts his residency in an impoverished black neighborhood in the city but has also sought to cast himself as a bridge builder — pointing out his ties to a civil rights legacy that changed his family’s trajectory with intervention from progressive whites that helped him integrate his childhood neighborhood.

In a brief interview Friday, he encouraged voters to “pull the lens back on diversity.”

“We have women in this race, we have an openly gay person in this race, we have (a) biracial person in this race, African-Americans in this race,” he said. “It is an incredible moment in American history that our field is so diverse and that voters have such qualified folks to choose from.”

Patrick himself has made relatively few references to race since launching his campaign. But as he registered this week to appear on the ballot in the New Hampshire primary, he spoke of the “skepticism” he has experienced as a black man.

“He has demonstrated an ability to win over white voters in an overwhelmingly white state,” said Democratic strategist Doug Thornell. “The question is whether he has enough time, whether he can raise the money, and whether he can carve out a compelling narrative and identity that allows him to break through. That’s a lot to accomplish in two months, but it’s not crazy.”

His path would be a challenging one. Though Patrick is not a national name, he is fairly well-known in neighboring New Hampshire, where voters saw television ads for his gubernatorial campaigns.

A strong finish in the Granite State could provide momentum heading into South Carolina, disrupting the field and leaving no clear frontrunner heading into Super Tuesday, said Thornell.

“If you look at the African American candidates running, he might be the best positioned to pull that off,” Thornell said.

Patrick’s late entry is reminiscent of Gen. Wesley Clark’s 11th-hour bid in 2003. Clark was able to briefly break through after some among the electorate worried about then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s path to the nomination, or that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was too liberal.

As a prominent African American who can appeal to black and white voters, Patrick could appeal to soft Biden voters looking for an alternative to Booker or Harris, or who don’t like Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders’ progressive agenda, said Democratic strategist Adrienne Elrod.

“He can create that ‘I’m more left than Biden, but not crazy like Warren/Sanders’ message,” Elrod said. “He could appeal to some of those voters who are on the fence and not satisfied with others in the field. He can say, ‘I can be your candidate.’”

— Errin Haines



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White House beancounter defies Trump to tell impeachment inquiry about $400M in suspended Ukraine aid




Ukraine Trump

A White House budget official defied President Trump and testified Saturday in the House impeachment inquiry about the controversial suspension of defense aid to Ukraine.

Mark Sandy, a career Office of Management and Budget official, told lawmakers that he raised questions about whether the decision by Trump acolytes to hold up $400 million in desperately needed military assistance violated laws mandating money allocated by Congress be spent, CNN reported.

The budget expert did not explain what reasons were given for the hold up in aid. He testified behind closed doors in a rare Saturday session as the impeachment investigation continues to deliver heavy blows to Trump.

Sandy acted on orders to put an initial hold on the aid in late July and the issue was later handed over to Trump political appointees.

The aid was already appropriated by Congress, meaning the White House would have had to offer a legally valid reason for withholding it.

It’s not known what explanation if any, was given for removing the suspension from Sandy’s purview.

Sandy’s testimony shone a harsh spotlight on Mick Mulvaney, who is both the OMB director and Trump’s acting chief of staff.

“Mulvaney not only has refused to testify, but actively worked to block others from complying with subpoenas,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Cal.) in a statement. “(He also) refused to provide Congress with documents relating to Trump’s suspension of Congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine.

Mulvaney admitted that Trump imposed an improper “quid pro quo” on Ukraine at a disastrous press conference although he later sought to walk back his admission. He has refused to testify to the impeachment probe.

A key contention of impeachment advocates is that Trump suspended the aid so he could use it as leverage to force Ukraine into launching bogus investigation of Trump’s Democratic rivals.

In fact, the suspension of aid shocked Ukraine officials and reportedly led them to consider announcing the corruption probes to get the cash flowing again.

By that time, in early September, the intelligence whistleblower complaint had hit the headlines, forcing the White House to reinstate the aid without getting the investigations announcement that Trump wanted.

In a statement Saturday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, called out Mulvaney for refusing to testify.

“If Mulvaney had evidence that contradicted what we’ve already heard, he’d be eager to testify and provide documents. Instead, he’s hiding behind, and assisting in, Trump’s efforts to conceal the truth from the American people,” Schiff said.

Also on Saturday, impeachment investigators released the transcripts of depositions given by deputy assistant to the president Timothy Morrison, and Vice President Pence’s special adviser on Europe and Russia, Jennifer Williams.

In Morrison’s Oct. 31 deposition, he testified U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland told him he’d spoken with Ukrainian presidential aide Andriy Yermak about American military funding being conditioned on corruption investigations. “My concern was what Gordon was proposing about getting the Ukrainians pulled into our politics,” Morrison testified.

In Williams’ Nov. 7 deposition, she confirmed that Trump told Pence to not attend the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s inauguration in an apparent signal that he needed to pursue the corruption probes or be frozen out of the military aid.

“My understanding from my colleague—and, again, I wasn’t there for the conversation—was that the President asked the Vice President not to attend,” she testified.



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Social networks have been weaponized for the impeachment hearings




facebook, instagram whatsapp also affected

Impeachment hearings got underway in the House of Representatives this week, as you likely noticed from the wall-to-wall coverage. The process involves the sort of high-stakes, highly partisan events that naturally dominate social feeds. What television was to impeachment in the 1970s and 1990s, Facebook and Twitter — and YouTube and maybe TikTok — will be to impeachment in 2019.

The hearings on President Donald Trump’s apparent attempted bribery of Ukraine won’t be the first time a president has had to contend with, or benefit from, a hyper-partisan media. Conservative talk radio and Fox News were in full swing when Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, even if their rhetoric looks quaint by today’s standard. But the World Wide Web was in its infancy, and the world was then still innocent of algorithmically sorted news feeds, partisan bot armies, and state-sponsored meme warfare.

Not anymore. If the first day of hearings is any indication, social networks promise to play a powerful role in shaping the way that impeachment hearings are understood by Americans. They are also playing a powerful role in shaping the hearings themselves.

As Ryan Broderick documented at BuzzFeed, Republican lawmakers used their time during Wednesday’s hearing to promote discredited conspiracy theories that are popular on right-wing message boards:

There is one America that believes what was in former FBI director Robert Mueller’s report, that there was coordinated Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which helped the Trump campaign. But there is a second America that believes that in the summer of 2016, the Democratic National Committee colluded with Ukrainian nationals to frame the Trump campaign for collusion with Russia, implicating a Ukrainian American DNC contractor, Alexandra Chalupa, in the collusion and the California-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike in the subsequent cover-up.

This unfounded theory has been propped up by a 2017 Politico story; reporting from right-wing political commentator John Solomon published earlier this year in the Hill; Attorney General Bill Barr’s summer travels; the yearlong personal investigation into Ukraine conducted by Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer working for Trump; and coverage from Fox News and conservative news sites. All of that came into play during Wednesday’s hearing, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly.

After Republican members of Congress promoted these various smokescreens, right-wing media universally dismissed the hearing — either as an absurd exercise led by clowns, or as an outrageous abuse of power. Brian Stelter described the atmosphere on cable news:

Here’s what else I heard: Wednesday’s hearing was a bust. It was all just hearsay. It was a “disaster” for the Democrats and a “great day” for the Republicans. Impeachment is “stupid.” Impeachment is “fake.” There’s nothing impeachable here. There’s no reason to hold hearings. This inquiry needs to stop right now.

The message was one-sided and overwhelming. Every host and practically every guest said the Republican tribe is winning and the Democrat tribe is losing. I’m sure the president loved watching every minute of it. That’s one of the reasons why this right-wing rhetoric matters so much — because it is reassuring and emboldening Trump.

Meanwhile, if you’re reading the New York Times or watching CNN, you’re getting the sense that the case against Trump is a slam dunk, with multiple people having heard the president directly pressure his ambassador to the European Union to pursue a bribery plot. As Ezra Klein wrote recently, this impeachment is “the easiest possible test case for can our system hold a president accountable.” And yet with something like 40 percent of the country living in an alternate media universe, the basic, actual facts of the case may never penetrate into their reality.

Of course, that fear was one of the best reasons for Democrats to initiate impeachment proceedings in the first place: Show people real witnesses answering important questions over a long enough period of time — train everyone’s eyes on the same set of facts — and maybe a greater consensus will emerge.

Time will tell if they succeed. In the meantime, impeachment has proven to be big business on Facebook — where politicians are taking out highly partisan ads consistent with their respective worldviews. Emily Stewart and Rani Molla have a thorough walkthrough of how impeachment is playing out on Facebook, with Trump and Sen. Elizabeth Warren using ads to fire up their base and build their donor rolls; Tom Steyer using impeachment as a signature issue to promote his presidential candidacy; and a spice company buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of pro-impeachment advertising because they spread farther on Facebook than non-impeachment ads, resulting in a better return on investment.

Much of the debate about whether Facebook should allow political advertising noted that it represents a small fraction of the company’s business. But as the Vox writers note, that doesn’t mean it’s an insignificant business:

Facebook itself has grown into a formidable political platform in recent years, with campaigns and outside groups spending $284 million on the platform during the midterm elections, according to a report by Tech for Campaigns, a nonprofit that helps political campaigns with digital tools. While that’s just a small share of Facebook’s overall ad revenue, it’s a growing chunk of what campaigns are spending to reach constituents.

As impeachment hearings intensify, it seems likely politicians’ spending on Facebook ads will increase. And a good number of those ads, like so much about impeachment in 2019, will seem to have been created in a parallel world. In many ways, they were.



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By Casey Newton

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