Former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn has replaced his legal team, which has been by his side since before his December 2017 guilty plea, as he waits to move forward with sentencing.
D.C- based defense attorney lawyer Robert Kelner gave notice to the court Thursday that Flynn has terminated him, and asked the court for permission to withdraw from the case.
“As only sentencing remains in this case, sentencing has not yet been scheduled, and General Flynn has already retained new counsel, withdrawal at this time would not be prejudicial to any of the parties or otherwise inconsistent with the interests of justice,” Kelner’s filing said. It is not clear yet who Flynn’s new attorneys are.
After pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with Russian officials, Flynn proved to be a key witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and his testimony was cited several times in Mueller’s report. Flynn was also assisting in other Justice Department investigations, according to court filings. He is expected to testify at July trial of the foreign lobbying case against his former business associate, Bijan Kian.
Given his “substantial assistance”, the government recommended no prison time for Flynn. However, the prospect of no prison time was put in jeopardy by a judge’s clear frustration with Flynn’s own sentencing memo in the case, which cast doubt on Flynn’s guilty plea and suggested that Flynn had been entrapped by the FBI.
During a December 2018 dramatic hearing, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan hinted at the hearing he would sentence Flynn to some jail time, and his is lawyers asked to delay the sentencing until Flynn’s cooperation with the government was complete. A new sentencing proceeding has not been scheduled yet and likely awaits until after Kian’s trial.
Patrick Cotter, a defense attorney in Chicago and a former federal prosecutor, suggested that Flynn could be wiping the slate clean as he prepares to go through the sentencing process again, after his initial sentencing strategy backfired.
“It just appears to me that the lawyers did make a pretty bad, bad mistake on the first sentencing memo,” Cotter said. “It may be that Flynn has just recognized that having made that kind of an error in front of the judge, it will be very difficult for his current lawyers to file a wholly credible sentencing memo with the same judge.”
Doing the change-up now gives the new team plenty of time to get up to speed before they file the new round of sentencing memos, presumably after Flynn’s cooperation for Kian’s trial, Cotter said.
It is possible that Flynn might be hiring a lawyer who will be take an more aggressive and conspiratorial posture in handling Flynn’s case, but Cotter said doing so would be “suicidal.”
Flynn would be doubling down on a “strategy that your sentencing judge has indicated that is so anathema to him, that if you do, it he will give you more time in jail than the government was asking for,” Cotter said.
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