A federal judge on Tuesday delayed sentencing once again for former national security adviser Michael Flynn -- a surprise decision at a dramatic hearing where the judge tore into the defendant and even questioned whether Flynn committed treason before walking back his comments.
The delay came after Flynn’s attorneys initially declined an offer Tuesday from U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan to delay the sentencing on charges of making false statements to the FBI, amid the judge’s questions over Flynn’s cooperation in a separate case involving illegal lobbying for Turkey. After Sullivan tore into the defendant and warned he couldn’t guarantee that Flynn wouldn’t get jail time, the defense asked for a sentencing delay.
Sullivan asked both sides to file a status report due March 13. Later Tuesday, he ordered Flynn to stay within 50 miles of the D.C. area and give up his passport by January.
"General Flynn has held nothing back in regards to the special counsel's investigation," Flynn's lawyer told the court, saying the case involving lobbying for Turkey is the only other area in which Flynn could be of further assistance to prosecutors.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the prosecution told Sullivan that Flynn's cooperation played a role in the indictment this week of two Flynn associates charged with illegally lobbying for Turkey without properly registering under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). They said Flynn could have been indicted in that case had he not cooperated.
Tuesday's hearing was meant for the judge to sentence Flynn after he pleaded guilty more than a year ago to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador. As part of that plea, he agreed to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
But after the hearing began, Sullivan tore into Flynn for his "very serious" false statement plea, as well as other alleged misdeeds. The judge asked prosecutors if Flynn could have been charged with treason, telling Flynn "arguably, you sold your country out."
"I'm not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense," Sullivan said.
After a brief recess, Sullivan clarified his scathing statements, prompting the prosecutors to note Flynn’s work as a foreign agent occurred before he took a job at the White House. He also walked back his treason comments, saying he wasn’t suggesting Flynn committed treason, but was “just curious.”
“After looking at the definition of treason, we have no reason to believe he committed treason,” prosecutors said.
The hearing also came as the FBI is facing mounting criticism from Trump allies over its handling of the original Flynn interview that led to the false-statement charge, after it was revealed bureau leaders discouraged Flynn from having a lawyer present and some inside the FBI had doubts about whether he intentionally lied. Mueller's team defended investigators' actions, but also urged a lenient sentence.
Ahead of the hearing, Mueller's team recommended that Flynn be spared jail time, citing his cooperation with the special counsel probe as part of a deal with prosecutors in December 2017.
President Trump on Tuesday expressed his support for Flynn ahead of the hearing.
“Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn,” the president tweeted. “Will be interesting to see what he has to say, despite tremendous pressure being put on him, about Russian Collusion in our great and, obviously, highly successful political campaign. There was no Collusion!”
Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, joined the Trump campaign as an adviser on national security issues in 2016.
After Trump’s election, Flynn – who had been floated as a possible running mate to Trump – was named national security adviser but his tenure at the White House was brief. Flynn was fired in February 2017 after misleading Vice President Pence and other officials about his contacts with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
By the end of 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak. This was in connection with a January 2017 interview by two FBI agents about those discussions with Kislyak -- specifically regarding then-President Barack Obama's recently imposed sanctions for election meddling.
Out of work and under investigation, Flynn faced mounting legal bills that forced him to sell his home amid the prosecution.
At the time of his guilty plea, Flynn said in a written statement that "I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right. My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel's Office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions."
But since then, questions have been raised about the FBI’s conduct in interviewing and prosecuting Flynn, and whether the former national security adviser actually deliberately lied to agents.
Recent memos released by the FBI indicate the FBI discouraged Flynn from having an attorney present during the questioning. Those memos also show that FBI agents did not instruct Flynn that any false statements he made could constitute a crime, and decided not to "confront" him directly about anything he said that contradicted their knowledge of his wiretapped communications with Kislyak. One of the agents who conducted the Flynn interview, Peter Strzok, was later fired from the Russia probe in late July 2017 over his apparent anti-Trump bias.
Fired FBI Director James Comey also admitted earlier this month that the FBI's move not to involve the White House Counsel -- which the FBI usually involves in any interviews with senior White House officials -- was not standard protocol, and that the FBI felt it could get "away with" the tactic in the early days of the Trump administration.
Some Republicans have accused the FBI of misconduct over their prosecution of Flynn.
Speaking to "Fox News Sunday," Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani flatly alleged that Flynn had been "railroaded" and "framed."
"What they did to General Flynn should result in discipline," Giuliani told host Chris Wallace on Sunday. "They’re the ones who are violating the law."
Hours before Flynn was set to be sentenced, a new FD-302 witness report from the FBI was released shedding more light on Flynn’s fateful interview with the FBI -- indicating Flynn issued few definitive statements in response to FBI agents' questions, and at various points suggested that such conversations might have happened or that he could not recall them if they did.
The document stated that Flynn told agents "not really" and "I don't remember" when they asked if he had requested Kislyak and the Russians not engage in a "tit-for-tat" with the U.S. government over the Obama administration's sanctions in December 2016.
Flynn was not charged with wrongdoing as a result of the substance of his calls with the Russian ambassador.
Fox News’ Kelly Phares, Jake Gibson and Gregg Re contributed to this report.