MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Outside a federal courthouse here in Washington today, allies of former national security adviser Michael Flynn rallied in his defense.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) We support General Flynn. We support General Flynn. We support General Flynn. We support...
KELLY: The retired general got a different reception inside the courthouse. The judge warned that he might throw the book at Flynn for lying to the FBI, and Flynn opted to delay his sentencing. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson was in the packed courtroom today. She's here in our studio now. Hey, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: So quite the buildup today, and the expectation going in was, A, that Flynn would be sentenced and, B, probably no prison time. Instead we got - what? - justice delayed.
JOHNSON: Justice delayed. This felt like a wedding where all the guests dressed up and traveled from far away. And the couple got to the altar, and then somebody pulled the plug.
JOHNSON: Prosecutors said Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. They also said Flynn has been enormously helpful to their investigation - 19 meetings, 62 hours of interviews. And the special counsel said Flynn...
KELLY: Sixty-two hours of interview.
JOHNSON: Sixty-two hours. The special...
KELLY: Wow, OK, go on.
JOHNSON: ...Counsel said Flynn deserved little or no prison time, but the judge, Emmet Sullivan, was not so sure. He said Flynn was a high-ranking government official who misled federal agents in an interview inside the White House. At one point, the judge asked whether Flynn could be charged with treason or whether he had acted as a foreign agent inside the White House. The government said, no, that's going too far. And the judge said, I feel badly about musing about that; never mind.
KELLY: I mean, it sounds like such a scene inside the courtroom. Just describe what it was like, who all was there.
JOHNSON: Flynn comes from a large Catholic family. Has eight brothers and sisters. Several of them were there. His wife was sitting in the front row alongside their adult son also named Michael. The father of one of the prosecutors showed up, too. But once the judge started expressing serious doubts, the mood got really tense. The judge asked several times whether Flynn wanted to take a break or consider a delay in the sentencing.
Ultimately Flynn took the judge up on that offer. When they came back from the break, Flynn's lawyer said Flynn had been a major-league help to the authorities. He had held nothing back in his interviews with the special counsel. But he could still be called to testify in a trial involving two of his former business associates. Those men are accused of acting as foreign agents of Turkey. And Flynn was not charged in that case even though he could have been. So both sides are now going to hit pause and update the judge in mid-March about their progress.
KELLY: OK, so we're not likely to hear much until March. This will go quiet, OK. Well, what about this question that has been live even in the years since Michael Flen pleaded guilty? There have been questions raised by people who believe he was trapped - entrapped some way by the FBI. Did that come up today?
JOHNSON: It did. Even Flynn's own son Michael has been posting on Twitter about the FBI and raising questions about the FBI's conduct. But in court today, Flynn accepted responsibility for those lies. He rejected the idea he was entrapped by FBI agents. He said he knew it was wrong to lie to the FBI, and he said he pleaded guilty because he was in fact guilty.
For their part, prosecutors say Flynn had plenty of chances to tell the truth. Instead he kept on lying. And in a very dramatic moment, the judge said, I'm not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense. That caused Flynn's wife to shake her head, and another relative started clearing her throat rather nervously.
KELLY: President Trump started the day by tweeting good luck to Flynn, his national security adviser. Has he reacted yet to this delay?
JOHNSON: While press secretary Sarah Sanders says the FBI ambushed Flynn in January 2017 in this interview in the White House, the White House is still being very kind to Michael Flynn even though he was pushed out for lying to the vice president. It's...
KELLY: And do we know why?
JOHNSON: Well, it's an open question about why the White House still feels so warmly. Another open question is what exactly Flynn has provided the special counsel team about Russian contacts with the Trump transition and the Trump campaign. Flynn could have been on the hook for a lot of other charges, and his son who did a lot of business with him was never charged with wrongdoing at all.
KELLY: Thank you, Carrie.
JOHNSON: You're welcome.
KELLY: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson.
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