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Michael Flynn heads to court for a new hearing

The hearing occurs amid Flynn’s continued cooperation with Mueller’s probe.

Michael Flynn Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn will appear in a Washington, DC, courtroom Tuesday morning for a hearing on the status of his case in the Russia investigation.

The reason for the hearing appears to be pretty banal. Flynn struck a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team last year in exchange for his cooperation with the investigation. But Flynn hasn’t been sentenced yet because Mueller’s investigation is still ongoing and Mueller is making use of the information Flynn is providing.

On June 29, though, lawyers for both Flynn and the Mueller probe made a slightly unusual joint filing. It said that they still weren’t ready to schedule a sentencing hearing for Flynn, but requested to start work on a pre-sentencing report anyway.

This is odd because normally, the court would do both of those things — schedule a sentencing hearing and start work on a pre-sentencing report — at the same time. Which is why Judge Emmet Sullivan scheduled today’s hearing: to get a sense of why he’s being asked to depart from the court’s usual practice.

So why did Mueller’s and Flynn’s lawyers ask for this? It’s not yet clear.

However, in recent weeks, some of Flynn’s relatives — such as his brother Joseph — have been publicly complaining that Flynn’s sentencing has been taking too long and that he is still being slammed by legal bills.

One possibility, then, is that Mueller’s team offered to throw Flynn a bone — saying that even though they’re not ready to sentence him, they’d ask the judge if they could start work on that pre-sentencing report, to help get the process rolling.

Judge Sullivan, however, seems to be wondering why Flynn should get special treatment. At today’s hearing, we’ll see if he’s convinced.

What’s going on with Flynn? Probably nothing unusual.

Some on the right have speculated that something may have gone awry with Flynn’s case, and that perhaps his guilty plea might even be withdrawn.

But the vast majority of analysts — including even some conservatives favorably disposed to Flynn, such as National Review’s Andrew McCarthy — think that’s unlikely.

“He got up in court, pled guilty as charged, and provided the court with an explanation of why he was guilty,” McCarthy recently wrote. “Legally, it is almost impossible to un-ring that bell.”

Indeed, there’s been zero daylight between Mueller’s lawyers and Flynn’s lawyers in any of the public filings so far — including this one. The recent request that prompted this hearing was submitted by both of them together.

Furthermore, the fact that Flynn hasn’t been sentenced yet isn’t unusual. George Papadopoulos, who struck a plea before Flynn, only recently got a sentencing date on the calendar. Rick Gates, another cooperating witness for Mueller, hasn’t had his sentencing scheduled yet either.

In the status report Mueller and Flynn’s attorneys’ have filed, the reason given to put off sentencing further has been that “due to the status of the special counsel’s investigation” he’s not ready to be sentenced. That is: Mueller is still making use of the cooperation he’s providing.

Of course, what exactly Mueller is doing with Flynn’s cooperation remains a tantalizing mystery. We haven’t seen any new charges result from information or testimony Flynn has provided just yet. But we’re unlikely to learn anything new about that topic at Tuesday’s hearing — Mueller will make that clear when he’s ready.