A federal judge abruptly postponed the sentencing hearing today for Michael Flynn, US President Donald Trump's first national security adviser, after a stunning hearing in which the judge accused Flynn of selling out his country.
The delay allows Flynn to continue cooperating with the Special Counsel's Russia probe and get credit for it in his punishment.
Flynn pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts, just days after Trump was inaugurated.
"Arguably you sold your country out," US District Judge Emmet Sullivan told Flynn in a tongue-lashing that raised the prospect that the judge could send the retired Army lieutenant general to prison, even though prosecutors have recommended against prison time, citing his cooperation in the Russia probe.
Sullivan told Flynn "I can't hide my disgust, my disdain" at the crime.
After a prosecutor raised the prospect of Flynn's continued cooperation with other investigations in the future, Sullivan warned Flynn that he might not get the full credit for his assistance to the government if he were sentenced as scheduled today.
Typically, judges like to sentence cooperating defendants after their cooperation is done so they can fully evaluate the help they gave to the government.
He gave Flynn a chance to talk it over with his lawyers, and the court went into a brief recess.
When they returned, Flynn lawyer Rob Kelner defended Flynn's cooperation — but requested a postponement to allow for him to keep cooperating.
Flynn, who served as national security adviser for only a few weeks, was to be the first White House official sentenced in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
The hearing took place amid escalating legal peril for Trump, who was implicated by federal prosecutors in New York this month in hush-money payments to cover up extramarital affairs.
Nearly a half-dozen former aides and advisers — including Flynn — have pleaded guilty or agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Trump signalled his intense interest in the case by tweeting "good luck" to Flynn hours before the sentencing hearing. He added: "Will be interesting to see what he has to say, despite tremendous pressure being put on him, about Russian Collusion in our great and, obviously, highly successful political campaign. There was no Collusion!"
At the hearing, Sullivan told Flynn that he would take into account his extensive cooperation with the government, which includes 19 meetings with investigators as well as a 33-year military career that included service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But he also said he was forced to weigh other factors, too, including Flynn's decision as national security adviser to lie to the FBI on the premises of the White House about contacts he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
Earlier in the hearing, Sullivan asked Flynn a series of questions to make sure he wanted to move forward with his sentencing in light of a memo his lawyers submitted last week that took aim at the FBI's conduct during agents' January 2017 interview of Flynn. Flynn said that memo notwithstanding, he was ready to proceed with sentencing.