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A Trump trick that backfired

Melvin B. Miller

Very few prominent African Americans have been involved in the affairs of the Trump administration. Consequently, the jurisdiction of black D.C. Federal District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan over the sentencing hearing of Michael T. Flynn generated considerable attention. Flynn was Donald Trump’s first national security advisor who was removed from office and later indicted because he had lied in an FBI investigation. When Sullivan’s hearing did not go as expected, some critics blamed the judge.

Since the advisory sentence for lying to an FBI agent is only about six months in jail, it is not unusual for prosecutors to recommend no jail time. That was the recommendation for Flynn because of his extensive cooperation with investigators. But after prosecutors filed their pre-sentencing memorandum, Flynn publicly asserted that he had been tricked by the FBI into lying. This claim rescinded the legitimacy of Flynn’s confession. Flynn claimed that he was essentially a victim of entrapment.

This assertion changed the hearing from a slam dunk proceeding. No competent judge would want to accept a guilty plea from a person who is actually innocent. Flynn’s remarks and the claims on the presentencing memorandum for which Flynn was not indicted generated a negative reaction in the judge. Sullivan said “I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense.”

The judge put Flynn under oath and asked him whether he was aware at the time of his interrogation that lying to the FBI was a crime, whether he believed he was being investigated when he spoke with the FBI, and whether he was fully aware of the potential consequences when he admitted his guilt. The answers to all of those questions were “yes.”

In light of his earlier claims that he was tricked by the FBI, Flynn’s answers indicate that he is a chronic liar. Judge Sullivan was concerned that Flynn had lied while in the West Wing, and some of his conduct not presently before the court was unpatriotic.

Flynn’s lawyers accepted Judge Sullivan’s offer to postpone the sentencing hearing for 90 days. Everyone knows that the judge in a courtroom has extraordinary power, but some critics have criticized the demeanor of Judge Sullivan. However, Flynn’s attack on the FBI is what created a judicial controversy. One wonders whether racial hostility is implicit in the criticism of Judge Sullivan.

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