A federal judge accused President Donald Trump's former national security chief Michael Flynn Tuesday of selling out the United States but agreed to delay his sentencing for lying over secret communications with Russian officials.
Judge Emmet Sullivan said Flynn had behaved in a "traitorous" manner while he was in the White House in early 2017 and threatened to impose a stiff prison sentence, rejecting a recommendation by prosecutors that the retired three-star general benefit from cooperating and receive no jail time.
But the judge gave Flynn the option to delay his sentencing, to better demonstrate why he merited a light punishment.
"I want to be frank with you, this crime is very serious," Sullivan said. "I'm not hiding my disgust, my disdain."
"Arguably, you sold your country out," he added.
It was a sharp and unexpected rebuke to the highest-ranked Trump aide so far to face a judge in the Russian collusion investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Two FBI agents arrived at the White house on January 24, 2017 -- four days after Trump was inaugurated -- to interview Flynn about his conversations the previous month with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak. The agents said Flynn lied about those contacts, in which he allegedly promised to remove sanctions on Russia even while the Obama government was in the process of strengthening them over Moscow's interference in the 2016 election.
Weeks later Flynn left the White House under a cloud for the alleged lies, but Trump persisted in defending him.
In private meetings he pressured then-FBI director James Comey to pull back the investigation into Flynn's Russia contacts, Comey has testified.
After Comey refused, Trump fired him, an act which led to Mueller's appointment as an independent prosecutor in charge of the Russia probe. An additional consequence of Comey's firing was that Trump himself came under investigation for attempted obstruction of justice.