Michael Flynn's prospects for lenient sentence now in doubt

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By Pete Williams  with NBC News Politics
Image: Michael FLynn
Gen. Michael Flynn, former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, leaves Federal Court in Washington on Dec. 1, 2017.   -   Copyright  Saul Loeb AFP - Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors have notified a judge that they no longer plan to put Michael Flynn on the stand when his former business partner goes on trial in Virginia next week — not because they don't need his testimony but because they no longer believe he's telling the truth.

In newly unsealed court documents, the government said it "does not plan to call Flynn as a witness" in the trial of Bijan Rafiekian, Flynn's former partner in a consulting business. Rafiekian is accused of failing to disclose the firm's lobbying on behalf of the government of Turkey, which wanted the U.S. to extradite a man living in Pennsylvania that Turkey's president blamed for a coup attempt.

In late 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to a charge brought by then-special counsel Robert Mueller, admitting that four days into his job as White House national security adviser, he falsely denied having two separate contacts with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during the Trump transition. As part of his plea agreement, he also admitted lying about his firm's lobbying for Turkey.

Flynn was to be sentenced in December 2018, with hopes he'd be sentenced only to probation, not prison time. But Federal District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan strongly suggested that Flynn needed to show more cooperation with the government if he hoped for a lenient sentence. Flynn's lawyers asked for a further delay to give him more time to cooperate with prosecutors in the Rafiekian case, in which he would have been a key witness.

But after saying for months that Flynn would testify, prosecutors notified the Virginia judge on July 3 of an abrupt change. They will not offer him as a witness and will instead argue that he was a co-conspirator, they said.

Rafiekian's lawyers said they received an e-mail from the government on July 2 in which the prosecutors said they "do not necessarily agree" with Flynn's explanations for why he signed a lobbyist filing in which he falsely denied lobbying on behalf of the Turkish government.

In a separate filing Flynn's defense team said he has spent hours helping prosecutors prepare for Rafiekian's trial and is still willing to cooperate. The government should not be allowed to change its position at this late stage, they said.