ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A business associate of the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn was convicted on Tuesday in Northern Virginia of secretly lobbying for Turkey, a victory for the government after the judge considered dismissing the case because prosecutors lacked evidence.
Judge Anthony J. Trenga had described the evidence against Mr. Flynn’s associate, Bijan Kian, as speculative and very circumstantial but let the case go to the jury. Judge Trenga could still toss the verdict and scheduled a Sept. 5 hearing on the matter.
During the short trial in federal court in Alexandria, Va., prosecutors had accused Mr. Kian and his business partners of trying to “subvert the American process” when they secretly agreed to work for Turkey. They said that Mr. Kian was operating at Turkey’s control and direction.
Mr. Kian’s defense lawyers repeatedly tried to undercut the government’s case, saying there was no actual agreement with the Turkish government to influence American policy. Prosecutors, Mr. Kian’s lawyers said, could not even demonstrate that Turkey paid for anything.
“There’s no evidence any Turkish official gave any direction,” Mark J. MacDougall, Mr. Kian’s lawyer, said on Monday during closing arguments. Later he added, using another name for Mr. Kian: “So now we’re all here. You’re here because the prosecutors claim that Mr. Rafiekian didn’t fill out the form the way they would like.”
Mr. Kian, 67, was charged last year with conspiracy to violate lobbying laws and failure to register as a foreign agent. He had faced up to 15 years in prison. The jury deliberated for hours before reaching its verdict.
Mr. Flynn’s association with the case was front and center during the trial. He pleaded guilty in a separate case to lying to the F.B.I. about his conversations with the Russian ambassador and lying on foreign lobbying disclosure forms related to his own work for Turkey.
As part of a plea deal, Mr. Flynn, who was an adviser to President Trump’s campaign and his first national security adviser, had been cooperating with the special counsel’s office and prosecutors in Virginia. He was cooperative enough for prosecutors to recommend no prison time, and Mr. Flynn had agreed in late 2018 to postpone his sentencing so he could testify against Mr. Kian, in part to secure a lenient punishment.
But on the eve of the Kian trial, Mr. Flynn abruptly changed his story and blamed his previous lawyers for filing inaccurate foreign lobbying disclosure forms without his knowledge.
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That prompted prosecutors to scrap Mr. Flynn as a witness, a seeming blow to their case against Mr. Kian, who had faced up to 15 years in prison. But they were dismissive of Mr. Flynn’s move, saying in a court filing that they had plenty of evidence to convict Mr. Kian.
His new position could anger the judge overseeing his case, Emmet G. Sullivan of the United States District Court in Washington. Judge Sullivan erupted at Mr. Flynn earlier for what seemed like a failure to take responsibility for his crimes.
Mr. Flynn has likely put himself on a collision course with Judge Sullivan, fueling speculation that Mr. Flynn believes that President Trump, who has publicly expressed sympathy for his case, will pardon him. But putting his fate in the hands of a mercurial president would be a risky, if not reckless, course by Mr. Flynn, who faces up to six months in prison.
Mr. Flynn’s fired his previous lawyers in June, partially blaming them for his legal troubles. He hired a new lawyer, Sidney Powell, who has pushed conspiracy theories about the special counsel’s investigation and sells anti-Mueller T-shirts on her website. During the trial, she sat behind Mr. Kian’s defense, occasionally passing notes to his lawyers.
Mr. Kian was indicted in December, along with another man, Ekim Alptekin, as part of a federal investigation into Turkey’s secret 2016 lobbying campaign to pressure the United States to expel Fethullah Gulen, a rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Prosecutors accused the two men of seeking to conceal that Turkish government officials were directing the project, saying that high-level Turkish officials approved the budget and Mr. Alptekin regularly updated them. Mr. Flynn’s firm, Flynn Intel Group, received a total of $530,000 for its work on the effort. At trial, prosecutors said that project was “single-mindedly focused on dirtying up Gulen, portraying him as a terrorist and a fraud and getting him extradited.”
Prosecutors revealed that the government also has additional information about Mr. Alptekin’s relationship with Mr. Flynn outside of his firm’s work. Prosecutors revealed that Mr. Alptekin tried to engage Mr. Flynn because of his association with the Trump administration. The government did not say how it obtained the information.
Mr. Kian was on the Trump transition team and worked on national security matters.
The outcome of Mr. Kian’s case could buoy efforts by the government to crack down on violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires people lobbying the government on behalf of foreign nations to notify the Justice Department.
Once viewed as an outdated statute that could be evaded with little consequence, FARA has now been aggressively applied in a number of high-profile criminal cases. The Justice Department began to enforce it more strictly in recent years, and the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, used it to help expose a culture of lobbyists accepting millions of dollars from foreign governments.
Before Mr. Mueller was appointed, only seven people in five decades were charged with violating the statute. Most violators were warned, not prosecuted. Prosecutors shied away from FARA indictments because they feared it was too difficult to obtain a conviction, a 2014 internal Justice Department report said.