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What Michael Flynn's Sentencing Memo Means In Context To Mueller's Investigation


Thirteen pages - that is the length of a document the office of special counsel Robert Mueller filed in federal court last night. The "Government's Memorandum In Aid Of Sentencing," as the document is titled, makes recommendations for the sentencing of former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. About half of the document is redacted, meaning completely blacked out, unreadable, but you can read enough to learn that Flynn has been cooperating with the Mueller investigation and has provided substantial help. Flynn gave 19 interviews that authorities called, quote, "particularly valuable."

Well, Barbara McQuade is a former U.S. attorney. She joins me now to put the memo in the context of the larger investigation. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

BARBARA MCQUADE: Thanks, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So you've handled a bunch of sentencing memos in your career. Does this strike you as having an unusual number of redactions?

MCQUADE: It does. In every case, when a defendant is about to be sentenced, it is customary for the prosecutor to file a sentencing memo to apprise the judge of all of the misconduct that the defendant has committed and also any mitigating factors that the court ought to consider. And that would include cooperation. But I have never seen one redacted so heavily, and that's because one of the other strange things about this case is that the cooperation isn't over yet. Normally you would delay the sentencing until the cooperation is complete.

And the reason there is that the witness, the defendant, has an incentive to continue to provide you information to earn credit in form of a reduction in the sentence. So it's unusual, but what Robert Mueller and his team have said is that he has already provided so much information that there's no reason to delay sentencing any further.

KELLY: Is - one thing that's maybe in play here is that the documents make clear that Flynn has helped not just with the special counsel investigation but with other investigations, at least one of which we can read as a criminal investigation. What questions does that raise for you?

MCQUADE: Yes. I thought that was very interesting as well. As you say, they used the word investigations - plural. It does cause one to wonder, what else is he cooperating about? And it also says that he was a firsthand witness to the events that he describes. It calls to mind some of the reporting we've heard, like his involvement with the government of Turkey, meetings in the Seychelles Islands. It raises a lot of questions and a lot of intrigue without really shedding a lot of light on it.

KELLY: Many clues, few answers at this point. What else catches your practiced eye in these blacked-out pages?

MCQUADE: Well, one thing that's really extraordinary is the reference to 19 meetings with Michael Flynn and...

KELLY: That's a lot.

MCQUADE: That is a lot. And it's occurred over the span of a year. And so it seems like Michael Flynn has been providing quite a volume of information. And, you know, in his position as national security adviser, someone involved in the campaign and the transition, it does suggest that he is someone who had potentially quite a bit of information and that he has come through in sharing that information in ways that Mueller and his team have found productive.

KELLY: I wondered from a strategic point of view whether these documents are in part designed to send a message from Mueller to everybody else he's trying to get to talk to him, hey, cooperate fully with my questions, with my investigation, and you may also serve a little or no prison time.

MCQUADE: Yes. I do think that's part of what's going on here. There's a paragraph that's completely unredacted that talks about timeliness. And it mentions that because Michael Flynn came in early, that that has been extremely valuable. And so I think he is sending a message to anybody who might be out there and might be sitting on the fence. Look at someone like Paul Manafort facing a dozen or more years in prison. You could be like that. Or you could be like Michael Flynn and facing probation. And so I think he is sending a not-so-subtle message by having that unredacted paragraph front and center in that memo.

KELLY: You mentioned Paul Manafort, former campaign chair for Donald Trump. And speaking of next shoes to drop, we're expecting some more documents at the end of the week to do with Paul Manafort. What are you watching for there?

MCQUADE: Well, Robert Mueller promises to detail the crimes and lies that caused the special counsel to sever ties with Paul Manafort after he agreed to cooperate. And so I think this is an excellent study in contrasts of what it looks like when someone cooperates fully, truthfully and forthrightly as required and when someone does not. Paul Manafort himself claims that he is still telling the truth and that he has not lied. But Robert Mueller says, yes, he has and what that tells me is they have found things that contradict what Paul Manafort has been telling them. And I think we're going to find out at least the subject matters on which Paul Manafort has lied very soon.

KELLY: Watch this space. Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney and a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, thank you.

MCQUADE: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.