Sarah Sanders continues to push false narrative that FBI "ambushed" Michael Flynn at press briefing

The former national security adviser admitted in court on Tuesday that he lied under oath and was not entrapped

Published December 18, 2018 5:07PM (EST)

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders talks with reporters outside the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. (AP/Evan Vucci)
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders talks with reporters outside the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. (AP/Evan Vucci)

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders continued to embrace the false narrative that the FBI "broke standard protocol" and "ambushed" President Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn when they questioned him at the White House in early 2017.

When Sanders was asked if she would amend her claim that Flynn was "ambushed" by the FBI, even though Flynn on Tuesday admitted that he had lied under oath and was not entrapped, she said, "No. We still firmly believe [that]."

Sanders, again, launched an attack on former FBI director James Comey – her second of the day – and claimed that the FBI "broke standard protocol in the way that they came in and ambushed General Flynn, and in the way that they questioned him and in the way that they encouraged him not to have White House counsel's office present."

"We know that because James Comey told us that and he said that the very reason that they did it was because — the only reason that they did it — it was the Trump administration. And they thought they could get away with it," Sanders added. "Those are facts, and there may be other issues there. But we don't have any reason to want to walk that back."

Judge Emmet Sullivan on Tuesday delayed Flynn's sentencing after threatening the former national security adviser with prison time. The retired U.S. Army lieutenant general had been expected to be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., for lying about his communications with Russian officials as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing probe into foreign meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The former national security adviser, who was fired by Trump after just 21 days in the position for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.,  has come under intense scrutiny by federal prosecutors over his lobbying firm's failure to disclose its work on behalf of foreign governments.

Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to a charge of lying to the FBI. He has been cooperating with investigators. In a sentencing memo filed last week, Mueller recommended to Sullivan that Flynn should serve no jail time, because he had provided investigators with "substantial assistance" in more than a dozen interviews. Because he cooperated early with the special counsel's office, it said "a sentence at the low end of the guideline range — including a sentence that does not impose a term of incarceration — is appropriate and warranted."

Mueller's team, in two memos filed ahead of Flynn's original Dec. 18 sentencing date, revealed that Flynn had sat for 19 interviews with the special counsel or other Justice Department officers. One memo, which was heavily redacted in the court papers filed last week, detailed some of the evidence that Flynn had provided.

"His early cooperation was particularly valuable, because he was one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight regarding events and issues under investigation by the [special counsel's office]", prosecutors said in the brief. "Additionally, the defendant's decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming with the SCO and cooperate."

While appearing in court on Tuesday, Flynn admitted that he was "aware" that lying to the FBI was illegal when he was questioned on Jan. 24 about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the weeks before Trump took office, although the White House has argued that Flynn was caught in a perjury trap because federal investigators did not recommend Flynn bring a lawyer and did not explicitly tell Flynn that lying to the FBI would put him in legal jeopardy. That myth has been dispelled by the special counsel – and now by Flynn himself – who has argued that such a warning was unnecessary for someone in the former national security adviser's position.

"A sitting National Security Advisor, former head of an intelligence agency, retired Lieutenant General and 33-year veteran of the armed forces knows he should not lie to federal agents," Mueller's team wrote in a court filing last week. "He does not need to be warned it is a crime to lie to federal agents to know the importance of telling them the truth. The defendant undoubtedly was aware, in light of his ‘many years’ working with the FBI, that lying to the FBI carries serious consequences."

The president's supporters and critics of Mueller's investigation, however, continue to allege that Flynn was tricked into lying in an apparent attempt to suggest that he is a victim rather than a member of a guilty party.

Sanders on Tuesday also said that there is "certainly concern" over Flynn's lies, but added that "it's perfectly acceptable for the president to make a positive statement about somebody while we wait to see what the court's determination is."

On Tuesday morning, Trump wished his former national security adviser "good luck" in a tweet and maintained there was "no collusion" between his 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

"Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn," the president wrote on Twitter. "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!"

By Shira Tarlo

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