The general's hasty retreat
Michael Flynn was smiling before his sentencing hearing began, and why not? Special counsel Robert Mueller was agreeable to no jail time to recognize his cooperation with the investigation. "Good luck today in court," President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning to his former national security adviser.
As the day approached, Flynn's lawyers and supporters had pumped up a narrative that Trump-hating FBI officials duped the onetime military intelligence chief, never warning him that lying would be a crime when they asked him about covert Russian contacts. Trump alluded to that storyline in his tweet, saying: "Will be interesting to see what he has to say" in court "despite tremendous pressure being put on him." Some Flynn boosters thought Judge Emmet Sullivan, a past critic of prosecutorial overreach, would be sympathetic.
It didn't work out that way.
"Arguably, you sold your country out," Sullivan told Flynn. "I am not hiding my disgust, my disdain for your criminal offense," the judge said. “I cannot assure you, if you proceed today, you will not receive a sentence of incarceration,” Sullivan warned.
“Were you not aware that lying to FBI investigators was a crime?” he asked the former three-star general. “I was aware,” Flynn answered. When Flynn declined Sullivan's offer to withdraw his guilty plea, Sullivan asked: “Because you are guilty of this offense?” The defendant replied, “Yes, your honor.”
Soon, Flynn lawyer Robert Kelner took responsibility for pushing the FBI entrapment story and asked the judge not to blame his client for it.
Kelner took Sullivan's strong hint to ask for a postponement in the sentencing so Flynn could show continued cooperation to Mueller's team. The judge set a new hearing date for March. For more, see Tom Brune's story for Newsday.
White House: Nothing to see here
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' briefing for reporters came after the courtroom drama, but it was if it had never happened.
Sanders stood by a claim she made earlier in the day on Fox News that the FBI "ambushed" Flynn, though he admitted to the judge that wasn't so. “We don’t have any reason to want to walk that back,” Sanders said.
Sanders was asked if the White House had concerns that one of the president's top aides lied to the FBI and had done work for a foreign government as an unregistered lobbyist for Turkey. Those "activities," she said, "don't have anything to do with the president,"
NY AG: Trump charity grift-wrapped
The Trump Foundation has agreed to be dissolved under court supervision while the New York attorney general's office continues to press a lawsuit charging it operated as a scam to benefit its namesake's business and political interests.
Attorney General Barbara Underwood cited "a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation — including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more."
A judge will oversee the foundation’s dissolution and distribute its funds to an approved list of nonprofit organizations, Underwood said. Trump's lawyers are still fighting the state's claims in court. The suit seeks $2.8 million in restitution and a 10-year ban on Trump and his three eldest children — Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka — from running any charities in New York. For more, see Newsday's story by Yancey Roy.
Janison: Shutdown or stand-down?
Last week, Trump was loudly "proud" to shut down the government if he didn't get $5 billion from Congress for his border wall. Now, maybe not.
Sanders said Tuesday morning: “We have other ways that we can get to that $5 billion. At the end of the day, we don’t want to shut down the government, we want to shut down the border." By the afternoon, she added that Trump has asked every agency to see if they have money that could be used for to pay for the wall.
The posture remains one of a standoff, but a stand-down may follow. Newsday's Dan Janison writes that at no point has the Republican majority now seated in Congress jumped forward with a unified voice to support the president's vision for this edifice.
Reversal of fortune
All the investigations and their revelations so far haven't shaken Trump's approval rating out of the 42% neighborhood. But a possible economic slowdown could turn out to be the greatest threat to his re-election hopes, The Associated Press writes.
The economy Trump has trumpeted as the "greatest" in U.S. history is showing signs of fragility, with stocks sinking and growth sputtering globally. He's pointing the finger at the Federal Reserve for rising interest rates, discounting the impact of his trade war and the soaring federal deficit since his tax-cut package passed Congress last year,
Gun control idea holstered
Trump’s Commission on School Safety — established in response to the deadly Valentine’s Day shooting at a South Florida high school — avoiding weighing in on gun control measures the president previously supported in its final report Tuesday, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
In the days after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Trump had voiced an idea to raise the age limit to purchase guns from 18 to 21. The panel’s list of recommendations includes encouraging schools to work with local law enforcement agencies to provide firearms training for school faculty and staff.
Separately, the Trump administration rolled out a new federal regulation Tuesday officially banning bump-fire stocks, which gained notoriety last year after a gunman in Las Vegas rigged his weapons with the rapid-fire devices to kill 58 people at a country music concert.
What else is happening:
- A federal appeals court ordered a mystery corporation owned by a foreign country to comply with a subpoena that appears to be from Mueller, Politico reported.
- Mueller's investigators are zeroing in on figures with ties to Trump's campaign and administration who may have attempted to shape U.S. foreign policy by offering Russia relief from sanctions, according to The Daily Beast.
- The Trump administration relented and will waive its travel ban for a Yemeni mother so she can fly to California to see her dying 2-year-old son. The boy's father, Ali Hassan, is a U.S. citizen who brought their son to an Oakland hospital to get treatment for a genetic brain disorder.
- The administration is changing the way it reviews sponsors who want to care for migrant children in government custody — backing off a requirement that all people in the house are fingerprinted, AP reports. ICE officers have arrested some 170 sponsors and others on immigration violations using the fingerprint data.
- Whatever happened to that 10% middle-class tax cut Trump promised just before the midterm elections? “I’m not going to comment on whether it is a real thing or not a real thing,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Bloomberg News. His department's focus now is fixing technical mistakes from the 2017 overhaul, Mnuchin said.
- The Senate passed a Trump-backed criminal justice overhaul, which eases several mandatory sentencing laws, by 87 to 12. The House is expected to approve it later this week.
- Trump is planning to merge his 2020 re-election campaign with the Republican National Committee into a single entity, Politico reported. The idea is to cut down on overlap and infighting.