Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn arrives at U.S. District Court for his sentencing hearing as demonstrators for and against him hold signs outside at the courthouse entrance on December 18, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn arrives at U.S. District Court for his sentencing hearing as demonstrators for and against him hold signs outside at the courthouse entrance on December 18, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

NEW YORK - Michael Flynn's hopes of avoiding a prison term could be in jeopardy after U.S. prosecutors said that his new legal strategy had prompted them to reassess their 2-year-old cooperation agreement.

Flynn, the former Trump national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, had been expected to testify against his former business partner, Bijan Kian. A trial for Kian is scheduled to begin next week in Alexandria, Va., on federal charges that he acted as an unregistered agent for Turkey.

Prosecutors said in court papers unsealed this week that Flynn had been dropped as a witness. Flynn has backed away from his earlier statements to authorities since changing lawyers last month and retaining an attorney harshly critical of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian election interference. Those changes were widely viewed as a possible attempt to secure a presidential pardon.

Prosecutors said this week that Flynn's role in the Kian case had changed from cooperator to co-conspirator. In the latest filings, they said Flynn may be called instead as a witness for the defense. They asked the judge to delay Flynn's sentencing until the Kian case is completed.

Flynn was the first major figure to strike a deal with the special counsel's office. He was allowed to plead guilty to a single count of lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, a crime with a possible prison sentence as long as five years, in return for his cooperation with Mueller investigation.

At his sentencing hearing last December, Mueller's office said Flynn's decision to cooperate early and offer a wide range of help had been so valuable that he could be spared time behind bars.

But U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in Washington saw the case differently. He balked at the suggestion that Flynn had earned leniency, saying that he could have been charged with additional crimes related to his work as an unregistered agent of the Turkish government while working as a top security adviser to Trump during the presidential campaign and transition.

"Arguably, you sold your country out," Sullivan said at the time. "I'm not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense."

Sullivan delayed the sentencing until Flynn's cooperation with prosecutors was complete. Because of the friction between Flynn and prosecutors, the judge this week ordered his lawyers and the Justice Department to file memos describing the impact of Flynn's changing status in the Kian case.

Flynn's break with prosecutors sped up congressional action. The House Intelligence Committee had issued a subpoena and intended to wait until after Kian's trial to call Flynn to testify. Now they're negotiating for him to appear sooner to answer their questions about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

"We had anticipated bringing him in to testify after he testified in the trial," Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the committee's chairman, said Wednesday before the court filing. "As he is no longer testifying in the trial, we have been in touch with his counsel about scheduling his appearance."

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(With assistance from Andrew Harris.)

Visit Bloomberg News at www.bloomberg.com

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