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Judge Unseals Documents Related To Michael Flynn's FBI Interview


The public now has access to documents relating to Michael Flynn's interview with the FBI. Flynn, you may recall, is President Trump's former national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia's ambassador. His sentencing has been delayed, and now a judge has unsealed four pages of documents, some of them handwritten.

NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been reading. Good morning, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are the documents, and what do they say?

LUCAS: So these are four pages of, as you said, FBI documents. They were written in January of 2017, right around the time the FBI interviewed Flynn about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. One of them, as you said, is a handwritten note. It's not entirely clear who wrote it or the exact circumstances under which it was written, but it's dated to the day that the FBI interviewed Flynn, and it appears to show an internal debate or talking points of some sort within the FBI about how to handle the Flynn case and Flynn interview, and that includes whether it would be useful to use the investigation to confront Flynn if he lies to agents in their interview about his contact with the Russians. The agent writes, quote, "what is our goal - truth, admission or to get him to lie so we can prosecute him or get him fired?" The note goes on to say, if we're seen as playing games, White House will be furious, and, quote, "protect our institution by not playing games."

INSKEEP: Oh, this is really interesting. So this is not some report of the interview. It's agents talking among themselves before the interview about how to structure the interview and, I guess, openly acknowledging some of the political implications of what they're doing. How, if at all, does that bolster Flynn's case as he tries to get a lighter sentence here?

LUCAS: Well, in the eyes of Flynn's supporters, this certainly bolsters his case. They have claimed - for example, his lawyer has claimed that these documents show that the FBI set out to entrap Flynn, to set him up, which is a case that they have been trying to make for the past year and a half or so. That is a view that has been endorsed by Trump allies in Congress - some of them. The president himself actually last night tweeted several stories in conservative outlets about these documents. And, remember; Trump has said that he's considering a full pardon for Flynn, so the possibility of a presidential pardon hangs over all of this.

But former prosecutors that I've spoken with say that these notes don't actually appear to bolster Flynn's case, at least not from a legal perspective. Investigators, as we said, appear to be kind of planning out - plotting out how to approach the Flynn interview, the Flynn case, which I'm told would actually be pretty standard practice.

INSKEEP: You certainly would want to give some thought to how to conduct an FBI interview, and especially one that's so high-profile. Can we be reminded here, though, because it's been - I don't know - quite a few scandals ago, what it was that Michael Flynn lied about - and there doesn't seem to be much doubt that he did lie - and how his case has progressed?

LUCAS: This has definitely been a long-running legal saga, this Flynn case. So, right, he pleaded guilty back in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, a man by the name of Sergey Kislyak. Flynn cooperated then extensively with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, was a key witness in that investigation. Flynn was actually in court in December of 2018, all set to be sentenced. Then there was a bit of a snafu. They decided to delay that. Then, last summer, Flynn fired his legal team, hired new lawyers and made this whole about-face. He's now been accusing the government of gross misconduct, of setting him up. He's now actually trying to withdraw his guilty plea. And these documents factor into his efforts to get this case dismissed.

INSKEEP: Has the judge given any timeline for a decision?

LUCAS: We do not have a timeline for the decision. The Justice Department has until May 11 to respond to Flynn's allegations.

INSKEEP: Ryan, thanks for the update.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.