Light sen­tenc­ing for those who lied to FBI gives in­sight to Mueller probe

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JEFF MORDOCK

Three in­di­vid­u­als who pleaded guilty to ly­ing to FBI agents in the probe into Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion could spend a pal­try 44 days in prison.

Dutch at­tor­ney Alex van der Zwaan re­ceived a 30-day sen­tence, and for­mer Trump cam­paign ad­viser Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los is serv­ing 14 days. On Tues­day, spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller rec­om­mended that for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn re­ceive no prison time when he is sen­tenced this month.

It’s far from the five-year max­i­mum penalty that ly­ing to the FBI car­ries — and an­a­lysts said it pro­vides a look into Mr. Mueller’s goals as he nears com­ple­tion of his probe.

“These are peo­ple who, at the begin­ning of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, did not have ma­jor roles, but they had in­for­ma­tion,” said Nick Ak­er­man, a for­mer as­sis­tant spe­cial prose­cu­tor in the Water­gate scan­dal. “Flynn ob­vi­ously had much more in­for­ma­tion, and his deal took that into ac­count.”

The Flynn rec­om­men­da­tion came as part of a new court fil­ing hint­ing at the for­mer Trump fig­ure’s co­op­er­a­tion on sev­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions. While most of the de­tails were redacted, the 13 pages left all sides spec­u­lat­ing on Mr. Mueller’s endgame.

“That most of the de­tails are redacted sig­nals he has given far more than we or the Pres­i­dent may know,” tweeted Rep. Adam Schiff, the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat poised to be­come chair­man of the House Per­ma­nent Select Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence.

He also pointed to the “irony” of Flynn’s guilty plea, af­ter he led the 2016 GOP con­ven­tion in chants of “lock her up” aimed at for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Le­gal ex­perts took note of Mr. Mueller’s use of charges of ly­ing.

“Do pros­e­cu­tors al­ways pros­e­cute ev­ery­one who lies to the FBI? No. But pros­e­cu­tors with Mueller could use it as a point of lever­age by of­fer­ing a less se­ri­ous sen­tence than it de­serves,” said An­drew Leipold, who was a mem­ber of the team led by in­de­pen­dent coun­sel Kenneth W. Starr dur­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton.

And that threat may have had an im­pact. In a court fil­ing for Flynn, pros­e­cu­tors said his de­ci­sion to plead guilty en­cour­aged oth­ers to be “forth­com­ing with [the of­fice] and co­op­er­ate.”

“It has al­ways been a some­what con­tro­ver­sial crime in the sense that you can be stopped on the street and asked ques­tions and the FBI doesn’t al­ways tell you it’s a crime to lie to them,” Mr. Ak­er­man said. “It has been crit­i­cized over time, and I think pros­e­cu­tors should be care­ful to use it only when they sense it’s needed.”

Mr. Mueller has been care­ful not to re­veal the ex­tent of co­op­er­a­tion he has re­ceived, but court doc­u­ments of­fer glimpses. And the more valu­able the in­for­ma­tion, the less Mr. Mueller pushes for prison time.

For ex­am­ple, Flynn’s sen­tenc­ing memo cred­its him with pro­vid­ing “sub­stan­tial as­sis­tance” to pros­e­cu­tors in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­leged ties be­tween the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment and mem­bers of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. It also said he is co­op­er­at­ing on “sev­eral” dif­fer­ent in­ves­ti­ga­tions. In ex­change for that help, he likely will be spared prison time.

“Flynn is about as im­por­tant as they come, hav­ing been na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser,” said Kim­berly Wehle, who teaches law at the Univer­sity of Bal­ti­more. “They are han­dling him in a spe­cial way.”

But even Pa­padopou­los, who was not ini­tially forth­com­ing, got a light sen­tence.

He coughed up in­for­ma­tion only af­ter he was con­fronted with his own emails, text mes­sages and in­ter­net search his­tory. The Mueller team sought a six-month sen­tence, which is in line with sen­tenc­ing guide­lines.

But a fed­eral judge said he be­lieved Pa­padopou­los felt re­morse for ly­ing to the FBI at the start of the Mueller probe and sen­tenced him to 14 days.

“Ly­ing to the FBI is a se­ri­ous crime, but you do take into ac­count all kinds of fac­tors, like, did they ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Mr. Ak­er­man said. “There all kinds of rea­sons for a sen­tence.”

In the van der Zwaan case, he lied to the FBI about his in­ter­ac­tions with Rick Gates and Kon­stantin Kil­imnik, both long­time as­so­ciates of for­mer Trump cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort. In Au­gust, Manafort was con­victed by a fed­eral jury on fi­nan­cial fraud crimes brought by the spe­cial coun­sel. He served 30 days in jail af­ter plead­ing guilty to one count of mak­ing false state­ments.

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