ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Prosecutors will have to go to trial Monday against the ex-business partner of former national security adviser Michael Flynn with no assurance they can present evidence of any kind from Flynn himself.
Court documents unsealed this week revealed prosecutors no longer plan to call Flynn as a witness at the upcoming trial of Bijan Kian and that they now classify Flynn as an unindicted coconspirator in the case. Kian is accused of illegally working as an agent of the Turkish government. Specifically, prosecutors say Kian was acting at the behest of Turkey when he persuaded Flynn to write an op-ed piece critic of Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen, a dissident living in the U.S. whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for a failed coup there in 2016.
At a hearing Friday in federal court in Alexandria, a judge told prosecutors they are also barred for now from telling jurors about Flynn's own guilty plea, in which he admitted to misconduct relevant to the case against Kian, also known as Bijan Rafiekian.
Meanwhile on Friday, a spokesman for Erdogan said prosecutors are off base in bringing charges suggesting a Turkish conspiracy targeting the U.S.
In a statement to the Associated Press, presidential spokesman Fahrettin Altun said Friday that "(t)he idea that we would conspire against the United States is preposterous."
And he said that portraying Gulen as a victim in the alleged scheme is "beneath contempt."
"The Republic of Turkey has worked with American companies for decades and reported those legitimate engagements to the authorities. We categorically reject any accusation of wrongdoing or illegal conduct in the United States," Altun said.
Defense lawyers for Kian say the entire case against their client is predicated on testimony provided by Flynn after he found himself the target of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election and Russian contacts with members of the Trump campaign. Flynn was a prominent foreign-policy adviser to Trump during the campaign.
Now that Flynn is out of the case, Kian's lawyers say prosecutors have no case and asked U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga to dismiss the indictment against Kian.
Trenga did not dismiss the indictment, but he told prosecutors that they cannot introduce Flynn's guilty plea to jurors unless the evidence at trial establishes facts that aren't currently apparent. Prosecutors had been hoping they would receive an exception to the rules that normally bar hearsay testimony when they reclassified Flynn as an unindicted coconspirator.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James P. Gillis acknowledged at Friday's hearing that the about-face over putting Flynn on the stand and the consequences imposed by the judge as a result have caused the government "to reassess in some part how we are going to present the case."
Prosecutors offered no direct explanation of their decision not call Flynn as a witness. Kian's lawyers say it is apparent that Flynn has been caught in lies and is no longer credible. Flynn's lawyers have said that prosecutors were pressuring Flynn to admit facts that weren't true, which Gillis denied at Friday's hearing.
Defense lawyers also said Friday that prosecutors are now belatedly acknowledging that Kian was unaware of some of the actions taken by Flynn and another co-conspirator, Kamil Alptekin. The defense lawyers said they have no idea what specific evidence prosecutors are referencing, but believe that the evidence could help establish Kian's innocence and should have been turned over.
Trenga took note of the defense lawyers' concerns and said he would be mindful of it as the trial proceeds.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday morning, and the trial is expected to last all week.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser contributed to this report from Ankara, Turkey.