WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s repeated praise for his first national security adviser as a good man who was treated badly by prosecutors appears to have ended, now that special counsel Robert Mueller is praising him.
Mueller revealed Tuesday night that he is recommending that retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn serve no jail time because of his “substantial assistance” in various investigations regarding Trump and his dealings with Russia.
Just a day earlier, Trump lauded a former business and campaign adviser for refusing to cooperate with prosecutors: “Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’” he wrote on Twitter about Roger Stone.
Yet by late Wednesday, Trump still had not weighed in on revelations that Flynn met with federal prosecutors on 19 occasions to help their various probes — including two that are not known publicly and whose details were blacked out in Mueller’s court filings.
Trump’s outside lawyer handling his criminal investigations, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, told HuffPost on Wednesday that there is no reason for Trump to attack Flynn because it does not appear that Flynn has given Mueller anything incriminating on Trump. “The president is confident that the general is telling the truth,” Giuliani said. “There’s no indication of any connection to the president. They’ve produced nothing on that.”
Giuliani said that if Flynn was actually an important witness against Trump, Mueller would not be letting sentencing go forward for fear of losing his leverage. Giuliani said he did not know what investigations were covered by all the redacted material in Tuesday’s filings but said he doubted they had anything to do with Trump. “He may have other things he’s cooperating about,” Giuliani said.
Trump’s silence thus far comes in stark contrast to his reaction last week to a guilty plea by his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen for lying to Congress about Trump’s efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
“He’s a weak person and not a very smart person,” Trump said the following morning. “What he’s trying to do is end ― and it’s very simple. He’s got himself a big prison sentence, and he’s trying to get a much lesser prison sentence by making up a story.”
Trump appointed Flynn to run his National Security Council despite warnings from outgoing President Barack Obama about Flynn, whom Obama fired from a top Pentagon post. Trump wound up firing Flynn after less than a month on the job. The dismissal came 18 days after then–acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed the White House that Flynn had lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials during the transition.
Trump claimed he had to fire Flynn because he lied to Vice President Mike Pence and because of negative press coverage. “I think he has been treated very, very unfairly by the media — as I call it, the fake media — in many cases. And I think it’s really a sad thing that he was treated so badly,” Trump said during a Feb. 15, 2017, news conference.
That praise continued for a year and a half.
“This man has served for many years. He’s a general. In my opinion, he’s a very good person,” Trump said in a May 11, 2017 interview with NBC News.
Even the day after Flynn pleaded guilty a year ago to lying to investigators, Trump continued to blame prosecutors. “It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!” the president wrote in a Dec. 2, 2017, tweet.
And early this summer, Trump told reporters that perhaps Flynn was coerced into pleading guilty and had not lied to investigators at all. “I feel badly for General Flynn. He’s lost his house, he’s lost his life. And some people say he lied and some people say he didn’t lie. I mean, really, it turned out maybe he didn’t lie,” Trump said.
Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 18. Prosecutors are set to file recommendations this week for sentences for Cohen from an earlier guilty plea and for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort from his September guilty pleas on fraud and obstruction of justice charges.
The FBI has been investigating Trump and his campaign’s contacts with Russia since before his election. He openly praised the country’s authoritarian ruler throughout his campaign, and President Vladimir Putin’s spy agencies worked to elect Trump by stealing emails from Democrats and releasing them through an ally, WikiLeaks. Trump repeatedly praised WikiLeaks and pointed to the stolen emails as proof that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was corrupt.
Trump fired FBI Director James Comey not long after taking office and told first Russian diplomats visiting the Oval Office and then NBC News that he had done so because of the Russia investigation. Mueller, who served as FBI director under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, was appointed special counsel to continue the probe after Comey’s firing.
Comey has said his firing took place after Trump asked him to go easy on Flynn and Comey did not agree to do so.