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Russia probe: Mueller recommends no jail for ex-Trump official Flynn

Special prosecutor says recommendation for former national security adviser due to his 'substantial' cooperation with investigation

WASHINGTON: Mr Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor in charge of the Russia election meddling probe, recommended on Tuesday that US President Donald Trump's ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn face no jail time due to his "substantial" cooperation.

Mr Mueller said in court filings that Flynn, who admitted last year to lying about his contacts with Russians following Mr Trump's November 2016 election victory, had helped in his and other unspecified federal criminal investigations, including being interviewed 19 times.

Mr Mueller also told the Washington federal court that despite his "serious" offence, the retired three-star general had a strong record of military and public service.

The surprise recommendation came ahead of Flynn's upcoming sentencing, which had been postponed four times.

Those postponements indicated that Flynn had possibly become a valuable witness.

"Given the defendant's substantial assistance and other considerations set forth below, a sentence at the low end of the guideline range - including a sentence that does not impose a term of incarceration - is appropriate and warranted," Mr Mueller told the court.

Flynn's was the first guilty plea secured by the Mueller investigation into alleged collusion between Mr Trump's election campaign and Russia.

His position as a top-level insider in the campaign, accompanying Mr Trump to key events, making a keynote speech at the July 2016 Republican convention, and then taking hold of the White House national security apparatus in Mr Trump's first weeks in office, made him a potentially extremely valuable witness.

But many thought his own problems had likely compromised that value.

On Jan 24, 2017, four days after Mr Trump's inauguration, Flynn lied to investigators about conversations he had the previous December with Russia's ambassador to the US, Mr Sergei Kislyak.

In those conversations, apparently recorded by US intelligence, Flynn appeared to be trying to undermine the policy of then President Barack Obama by making separate political deals with Moscow.

Mr Obama at the time was planning sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. Flynn urged the Russians not to retaliate, suggesting Mr Trump would reverse the sanctions.

Within weeks, Flynn was forced to resign after it was alleged that he also had lied to top White House officials about his Kislyak talks.

Then in March, in a second interview with the FBI, Flynn lied about the fact that before and after the election, he had a US$530,000 (S$725,000) lobbying contract on behalf of Turkey that he had not reported.

Despite the light sentence recommendation, the memo gave no hint as to what Flynn had told the Mueller team about the operations of the Trump campaign and its Russia ties.

A heavily redacted addendum to the Flynn memorandum on Tuesday added more tantalising hints. It indicated that Flynn was also aiding one or more other federal criminal investigations related to the Trump campaign, but not led by Mr Mueller.

Those potentially could include an examination of Mr Trump's financial ties to Russia through his real estate business. - AFP

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