Washington - President Donald Trump's former national security chief on Tuesday received a delay in sentencing for lying over Russian contacts, after a judge threatened him with stiff jail time and said: "You sold your country out."
Russia collusion investigation head Robert Mueller had proposed Michael Flynn receive no jail time for lying to investigators about his Moscow ties -- and in his own pitch to the court last week, Flynn had requested the same.
But Judge Emmet Sullivan said Flynn had behaved in a "traitorous" manner and suggested he was prepared to deliver a tough sentence to the former three-star general, saying Flynn's crime as a key White House player was far beyond those that lower-level Trump campaign aides had committed.
Sullivan gave Flynn the option to move ahead with sentencing, or put it of until the Mueller probe is more advanced and Flynn can better demonstrate his cooperation with the Russia collusion probe.
"I want to be frank with you, this crime is very serious," Sullivan said. "I'm not hiding my disgust, my disdain."
"Arguably, you sold your country out."
Flynn was facing a standard sentence of zero to six months in prison after he pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators in January 2017, just after Trump became president, about his communications with then Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
Mueller had told the court that no jail time was merited based on Flynn's cooperation with the probe, including 19 interviews over the past year, and his long record of military service.
But Sullivan noted that Flynn had already avoided charges of violating laws on interference with US foreign policy and had skirted being included in Monday's indictment of two Flynn business partners for illegally working for Turkey.
"This case is in a category by itself right now," Sullivan said.
Flynn was one of the first to face charges in the sweeping Mueller investigation into possible collusion with Moscow in the 2016 election, reaching a plea deal announced just over one year ago.
It remains unknown what Flynn has told investigators about Trump, whom he served in the White House for just weeks in 2017 before resigning in the wake of scandal.
The former top aide was accused of hiding repeated contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States and accepting $530,000 from Turkey to illegally lobby for the country during the campaign.
Trump has maintained that Flynn was tricked by FBI agents into lying as part of a broader scheme to damage his presidency.
"The whole Russian Witch Hunt is a Fraud and a Hoax which should be ended immediately," he tweeted on Tuesday before Flynn's sentencing.
- Angering Mueller? -
As a star Marine Flynn, 60, was credited for his battlefield intelligence operations and went on to become head of the powerful Defense Intelligence Agency.
But he spent just two years in the position before being removed in 2014 by then-president Barack Obama for mismanagement.
After that he moved into politics on the far right and joined Trump's election campaign as a senior advisor.
In July 2016 he spoke at the Republican convention where he led a now-iconic, rousing chant of "lock her up" directed at Trump's Democratic election rival Hillary Clinton.
The US intelligence community had strongly opposed his post-election appointment as White House national security advisor, considering him as someone given to bizarre conspiracy theories and possibly compromised by the Russians.
He had been paid several times to join Russian company events, most notably in December 2015 when he sat next to President Vladimir Putin at a gala for the country's state-run RT television.
In December 2016 he communicated numerous times with Kislyak, allegedly promising to lighten sanctions -- a stance seen as undermining the policy of Obama, who was still president.
Revelations of those discussions led to Mueller's probe of his actions.
Flynn may have angered investigators and the court last week when, echoing one of Trump's longstanding allegations, he suggested FBI agents tricked him into lying and alleged that the agents themselves had come under investigation.
Mueller's team sharply rebuffed Flynn, releasing the record of the interview and saying there was "nothing" in the FBI's actions that caused him to lie.
© Agence France-Presse
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