Michael Flynn now seen as a 'co-conspirator' in Turkish cleric plot by prosecutors
Trump's former national security adviser still hasn't been sentenced in special counsel probe
U.S. prosecutors have cancelled plans to call President Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn as a witness in a Virginia trial involving Flynn's former business partner — an abrupt change that raises questions about Flynn's co-operation with the government and its impact on his sentencing.
In court filings unsealed on Tuesday, federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., said they now plan to portray Flynn as a "co-conspirator" along with Bijan Rafiekian in a scheme to convince U.S. politicians to support Turkey's bid to extradite cleric Fethullah Gulen, a political dissident who lives in the United States.
Flynn's co-operation in Rafiekian's trial, which starts this month, could have an impact on how he is sentenced in his own case in a federal court in Washington, D.C.
Flynn was among the first people in Trump's inner circle to be charged by special counsel Robert Mueller for lying to investigators about his December 2016 conversations with Sergei Kislyak, Russia's then-ambassador in Washington, about U.S. sanctions imposed on Moscow by President Barack Obama.
Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and agreed to co-operate in the hopes of receiving a more lenient sentence.
As part of that plea agreement, he also admitted to submitting false statements to the government regarding his lobbying work with Rafiekian, also known as Bijan Kian, on behalf of Turkey.
But Flynn's sentence was delayed after U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan lambasted him at a contentious hearing in December in which the judge accused Flynn of selling out his country.
Sullivan gave him the option to delay his sentence until his co-operation with the government was complete.
New defence team
Last month, Flynn dismissed his defence lawyers for unknown reasons and hired Sidney Powell, an attorney who frequently appears on Fox News and has been critical of Mueller's investigation.
In a court hearing in Washington, D.C. on June 24, Powell told Sullivan that Flynn was expecting to testify in the Virginia trial and was co-operating with the government.
He has also opposed the government's decision to designate him as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Virginia trial, saying that contradicts claims the government previously made.
"The government's sudden decision to reverse its long-stated position that Mr. Flynn is its co-operating witness, and to turn him into an unindicted co-conspirator, is extremely prejudicial to Mr. Flynn," his attorneys wrote in a July 8 court filing.
The latest revelations could further complicate the sometimes fraught relations between the U.S. and Turkey. The countries have clashed on the role of Kurdish fighters in Syria, and over Turkey's purchase of a Russian anti-missile defence system, among other issues.