Former national security adviser Michael Flynn filed a motion on Jan. 14 to withdraw his guilty plea in the case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Flynn accused prosecutors of breaching the plea agreement under which he admitted to lying to the FBI regarding his communication with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak in December 2016. His motion also indicated that the defense intends to submit a list of additional reasons for withdrawing the plea.
Flynn’s attorneys requested to withdraw the plea one week after his prosecutors opted to suggest a sentencing range of up to six months for Flynn, harsher than the probation-only punishment they originally suggested in December 2018.
The prosecutors argued that Flynn deserved the harsher sentence because he allegedly acted to undermine a separate criminal case against Bijan Rafiekian—his former business partner—and allegedly failed to accept responsibility for the crime to which he pleaded guilty.
Flynn alleges that the prosecutors are instead acting in bad faith and using the harsher sentence recommendation as a form of revenge for his unwillingness to provide false testimony in the Rafiekian case.
In October 2019, Flynn suggested his intent to withdraw the guilty plea. The formal withdrawal request is the latest twist in the first prosecution brought by Mueller as part of the Russia investigation. Flynn fired his lawyers last year and brought on a new team led by Sidney Powell, a fierce critic of prosecutorial misconduct within the Justice Department.
Powell’s opening salvo consisted of motions accusing the prosecutors of withholding exculpatory evidence and asking the judge to remove the government attorneys. Judge Emmet Sullivan denied all of Powell’s motions on Dec. 16, 2019.
Flynn’s cooperation in the Rafiekian prosecution is at the center of the dispute that led to the withdrawal of the plea. The prosecutors say Flynn sought to actively undermine their case against Rafiekian. Flynn’s attorneys say the retired three-star Army general is simply refusing to lie.
“The only thing that changed in Mr. Flynn’s case was the appearance of new, unconflicted counsel on Mr. Flynn’s behalf, and Mr. Flynn’s refusal to lie for the prosecution of Rafiekian with the representation, protection, and advocacy of his new defense team,” Powell wrote.
According to Powell, the prosecutors demanded that Flynn testify that he knowingly signed Foreign Agent Registration Act forms that contained false statements. The prosecutors made the demand after Flynn retained new attorneys.
Rafiekian was acquitted in September 2019 of acting as an agent of the Turkish government without informing the U.S. government, and two related charges.
Petr Svab contributed to this report.