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Here’s What Could Actually Be Going on with Michael Flynn’s Legal Team Shake-Up


Fired Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has officially hired former Texas prosecutor and federal appellate lawyer Sidney Powell, who has gone on the record in the past to say that the “entire Russia collusion narrative was made up.” Powell also criticized one of then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann, for “wrecking lives with his prosecutorial terrorist tactics.”

All of this raises this question: What is Powell’s hire for?

While some have speculated that Powell’s representation of Flynn signaled that he will be withdrawing his guilty plea, Powell seemed to quash that when she said the following in a Wednesday statement: “He is and will continue to cooperate with the government in all aspects.”

“I’m honored to be representing General Flynn, who I’ve long considered an American hero. The General and his family want to thank everyone across the country for their cards and contributions to his legal defense fund. He is going to continue to cooperate with the government, pursuant to his plea agreement,” Powell told Hill.TV.

Flynn pleaded guilty in Dec. 2017 for lying to the FBI.

Trial lawyer Page Pate told Law&Crime that Flynn “can’t both continue to cooperate and also withdraw his plea because that would violate the plea agreement,” so that seems to suggest this lawyer change has to do with something else.

National security lawyer Bradley P. Moss told Law&Crime that, given what Powell has said thus far, the “likely rationale for this change in lawyers is twofold: reducing Flynn’s ongoing legal fees and bringing on a more obvious Trump proponent to push for a pardon.”

Pate agreed that this rationale “makes sense,” but added that “this is obviously a very unusual case.”

“In a run of the mill federal case, a change in lawyers this late would signal an attempt to withdraw a plea,” he said.

Law&Crime also asked Moss if the Powell hire was made in anticipation of an inevitable appeal, given her extensive experience in this area of the law.

He said that there “certainly is that possibility,” but it doesn’t make financial sense.

“Unless Flynn is legitimately worried about serious prison time being imposed, it does not make much financial sense for him to be contemplating an expensive appeal like that,” he said.

Powell, for her part, has said that she’s going to need a while to review Flynn’s case file, which would serve to drag things out longer.

Powell told the Daily Caller, for instance, that she would need “a good while.” She also told Sara Carter that the Flynn file is “massive” and that “it will take [her] at least 90 days to review it.”

The Flynn legal team shake-up occurred quite suddenly last week.

Attorneys Robert Kelner and Stephen Anthony said in a motion to withdraw on Thursday that Flynn had notified them of their firing.

“General Flynn has notified the undersigned counsel that he is terminating Covington & Burling LLP as his counsel and has already retained new counsel for this matter,” they said. “[W]ithdrawal at this time would not be prejudicial to any of the parties or otherwise inconsistent with the interests of justice.”

Because the motion to withdraw was not submitted in accord with local court rules, U.S. District Judge Judge Emmet Sullivan initially dismissed it without prejudice, allowing Kelner and Anthony another opportunity to remove themselves from the case. The second time was the charm.

Judge Sullivan memorably wondered aloud in court if Flynn had committed treason and then apologized for doing so. Sullivan also said to Flynn, “Arguably, you sold your country out.”

Powell was in Sullivan’s D.C. courtroom that day.

Here was Powell’s Fox News analysis of what occurred in court: “It wasn’t what I was expecting by any means, but I don’t think it’s as bad as the mainstream media is reporting it by any definition. The judge seemed to me to be trying to provoke a response from General Flynn. It was almost as if he wanted him to withdraw his guilty plea. I think he thinks there’s a lot going on here, and he’s not through with this yet.”

When the firings occurred, the news was deemed a “potentially major development.”

At the time, Politico’s Josh Gerstein said that move could signal Flynn was “moving to a more combative, anti-Mueller approach his family and friends often urge on Twitter.” Considering Powell’s past remarks on the origins of the Russia probe and her criticism of Andrew Weissmann, that very much appears to be the case.

Whether that means blowing up the plea agreement is another story. Right now, there are other options.

[Image via Fox News screengrab]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.