How to read between the lines of Mueller's blacked-out memo on Michael Flynn

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 12/5/2018, 1:10 p.m.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed a two-part sentencing memo for Michael Flynn on Tuesday night. The memo is heavily redacted, ...
Robert Mueller

By Elie Honig

(CNN) -- Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed a two-part sentencing memo for Michael Flynn on Tuesday night. The memo is heavily redacted, leaving much to the imagination, but it confirms that Flynn provided Mueller with valuable inside information on multiple ongoing criminal investigations, including Mueller's core investigation of whether Russian officials colluded with members of the campaign of President Donald Trump.

Think of the memo like a movie trailer: you watch it and think, "I don't know exactly what this is going to be about, but it's definitely going to be good." Bottom line: Mueller still has many more revelations to drop, and they're going to land hard.

In part one of the sentencing submission, Mueller meticulously lays out the details of Flynn's crimes, which Mueller deems "serious." Most importantly, Flynn lied to the FBI about conversations in which he asked Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to refrain from escalating the Russian response to sanctions imposed by then-President Obama because of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Despite Flynn's serious crimes, Mueller asks the court to impose a minimal sentence -- "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."

Mueller's memo makes this recommendation primarily because of Flynn's "substantial assistance to the government." I've handled dozens of federal cooperators and I have at times specifically requested no jail time -- but only for those who cooperated promptly, fully, truthfully and productively. A sentence of no jail time here is within the sentencing guidelines range of 0 to 6 months but, notably, Mueller did not seek no jail time for less valuable or more problematic cooperators including George Papadopoulos (for whom Mueller requested up to six months in jail -- and who was sentenced to 14 days of imprisonment) and Paul Manafort (whose cooperation collapsed altogether, which Mueller is due to detail in another filing due on Friday).

Indeed, in part two of the submission, Mueller informs the court that Flynn's cooperation was "substantial," and "particularly valuable." Having whet the reader's appetite, however, Mueller then proceeds to offer up a sea of black redaction ink. But Mueller also offers several important clues about what Flynn has done, and what is still to come.

First, Mueller tells the court that Flynn has cooperated on "several ongoing investigations." Every word of that phrase matters: Mueller has used Flynn's information on multiple investigations, and those investigations are not yet over.

So whatever fruits Flynn gave to Mueller -- and we know Flynn gave a lot, because Mueller discloses that his team and other federal prosecutors met with Flynn for a whopping 19 interviews -- Mueller has not fully harvested them yet.

As Mueller puts it, "some of that benefit [from Flynn's cooperation] may not be fully realized at this time because the investigations in which he has provided assistance are ongoing." Translation: people are going to get charged based on Flynn' s information, but not just yet.