PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Days away from being sentenced in the Russia probe, former national security adviser Michael Flynn is not exactly hiding his face in shame.
People close to him tell The Associated Press that as the possibility of prison looms, Flynn is relaxed and hopeful, eager to get through Tuesday’s sentencing and move forward. He’ll be the first official in President Donald Trump’s administration to be sentenced in the case.
Flynn has been having fun with his old high school gang, going out on the town to see an Elton John concert and watch the New England Patriots and Boston Celtics play, friends tell the AP. Random people approach him in public with hugs, handshakes and requests for photos. His supporters plan to rally outside the courthouse the day of his sentencing, and a lucrative consulting gig could await him.
The retired three-star general pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with the then-Russian ambassador to the United States during Trump’s White House transition. In a filing this week, his lawyers highlighted Flynn’s long and distinguished military service and extensive cooperation with prosecutors in asking that he be sentenced to probation and community service, rather than prison.
The special counsel investigating whether Trump’s 2016 Republican presidential campaign coordinated with Russia has said Flynn was so helpful that he was entitled to avoid time behind bars, even though sentencing guidelines recommend up to six months in prison.
Despite the extensive cooperation, Flynn has not drawn any of the vitriol that Trump has hurled at those who have turned on him — most notably his former fixer Michael Cohen. The president on Thursday called Flynn a “great person.”
Flynn has given 19 interviews to prosecutors, five of those before he pleaded guilty, according to his filing. His lawyers said he turned over thousands of documents, and the special counsel’s office has said that he has also aided a criminal investigation they haven’t yet revealed.
While Flynn’s lawyers acknowledged he had made a “serious error in judgment” and “shown true contrition,” he has an extended group of supporters who believe he’s an American hero being unjustly prosecuted because of his association with Trump. Tuesday’s filing added fuel to that idea.
His lawyers detailed his FBI interview, including that agents did not warn him in advance that it was a crime to lie to the FBI, and suggested Flynn was discouraged from bringing a lawyer into the meeting.
Members of Flynn’s family and friends tweeted this week that he had been entrapped, set up or ambushed by the FBI. His son, Michael Flynn Jr., complained of a double standard with Democrat Hillary Clinton because she had lawyers in her FBI interview.
Trump on Thursday tweeted that the special counsel gave Flynn “a great deal because they were embarrassed by the way he was treated.”
“They want to scare everybody into making up stories that are not true by catching them in the smallest of misstatements. Sad!” Trump wrote.
In the time since he left the White House just weeks after Trump’s inauguration, Flynn has moved back to Middletown, Rhode Island, where he and his wife, Lori, grew up and where they have a deep social network.
Thomas A. Heaney Jr., a retired Army colonel who has been friends with Flynn since they were 9 years old, said they have been out more than a dozen times in Rhode Island and elsewhere when Flynn has been recognized by people on the street.
“Every single circumstance I’ve been witness to, people are in support of him, and they voice that opinion to him when they see him. And they are upset about the way he’s been treated. That’s the general theme each and every time,” Heaney told the AP.
Flynn has remained mostly out of the public eye since his guilty plea, with occasional public appearances in front of friendly audiences. The closest he’s gotten to commenting on his case was in a campaign appearance for an ultimately unsuccessful Republican congressional candidate in California earlier this year, telling the crowd he wasn’t there “to complain about who has done me wrong or how unfair I’ve been treated or how unfair the entire process has been.”
Several supporters who came together in a private group chat on Twitter plan to rally outside the federal courthouse when he is sentenced, according to organizer Pasquale Scopelliti. Flynn wrote a foreword to Scopelliti’s self-published book, “America First: The MAGA Manifesto,” earlier this year. He said Flynn was not involved in the rally.
Scopelliti said they hope to counteract Flynn detractors who they expect will be shouting “Lock him up!” — a reference to Flynn’s anti-Clinton “Lock her up!” chant during the 2016 Republican National Convention.
“He is our hero, absolutely,” Scopelliti said.
The “hero” label puzzles U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat and former federal prosecutor, who said Flynn committed a serious crime of lying to the FBI about a national security matter while in the White House and serving as national security adviser.
He said Flynn may be benefiting from Trump’s labeling of the special counsel investigation as a “witch hunt” and “hoax.”
“I think that’s part of a political campaign designed to discredit the special counsel, but some people do believe it,” Whitehouse said.
As for what’s next for Flynn, those close to him said he has a number of options, including consulting or writing a book. Over the summer, a firm headed by lobbyists who recently represented the government of Qatar announced Flynn was coming to work there. Flynn’s attorneys quickly said he hadn’t joined Stonington Global. As of Thursday, its website still listed Flynn as joining it as director of global strategy. The company didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“His Rolodex has got to be amazing,” longtime friend Rocky Kempenaar said. “I just know he’s not done. I don’t know what he’s got up his sleeve. He loves our country, he just wants to give and give and give.”
Among Flynn’s fans is former Trump national security aide Sebastian Gorka, who worked with Flynn in the White House. He floated another idea on Twitter and Fox News this week: that Trump should bring on Flynn as his new chief of staff.