U.S. Drops Michael Flynn Case, in Move Backed by Trump

U.S. Drops Michael Flynn Case, in Move Backed by Trump

    The unprecedented move came after Mr. Flynn, the former national security advisor had been battling the case for months in court, a turnaround after previously pleading guilty and cooperating with investigators.
    The Justice Department dropped its criminal case Thursday against Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump's first national security advisor, following an unprecedented public campaign by President Trump and his allies.


    Mr. Flynn had previously pleaded guilty twice for lying to FBI agents about his talks with a Russian diplomat during the late 2016 presidential transition.       

    The step was the latest example of the attempts made by Attorney General William P. Barr to chisel off Russia's investigation results. Documents presented as evidence of prosecutorial wrongdoing by Mr. Flynn's lawyers were turned over as part of a review by an independent investigator whom Mr. Barr asked to re-examine the case. Mr. Barr has cast doubt not only on some of the investigation's cases but also on their theory, appointing another investigative prosecutor to scrutinize their sources.      It was also highly rare for the prosecution to throw out a lawsuit after a defendant had already pleaded guilty. Former prosecutors failed to point to any precedent and presented the reasoning offered by the Justice Department as doubtful.

    By abandoning the case, the department undid what was one of the first major acts of the special counsel investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia's 2016 election interference — the prosecution of a retired top army general turned national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators.   

    Though Mr. Trump fired Mr. Flynn weeks into his presidency for lying to vice-chairman Mike Pence about the conversations with the diplomat, he has long complained that a corrupt few at the F.B.I. mistreated Mr. Flynn and suggested he might pardon him. enforcement officials dropping the fees took issue with the F.B.I.’s interview of Mr. Flynn in early 2017 as a part of the Russia investigation that Robert S. Mueller III later took over.

    Agents’ questioning “was untethered to, and unjustified by, the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn,” the acting us attorney in Washington, Timothy Shea, wrote during a motion to dismiss the fees. Prosecutors said that the case fell in need of the legal standard that Mr. Flynn’s lies be “materially” relevant to the matter under investigation.

    “The government isn't persuaded that the Jan. 24, 2017, interview was conducted with a legitimate investigative basis and thus doesn't believe Mr. Flynn’s statements were material albeit untrue,” Mr. Shea wrote. 
    Democrats condemned the move. “A politicized and thoroughly corrupt Department of Justice goes to let the president’s crony simply walk off,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of the latest York and therefore the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “Americans are right to be furious and worried about the continued erosion of our rule of law.”
    He said he would ask the Department of Justice military officer to research and work to secure Mr. Barr’s testimony before his committee as soon as possible.

    In dropping the fees, enforcement officials abandoned the stance of the career prosecutors who had been on the case, who had argued that Mr. Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador to us at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak, “went to the heart” of the F.B.I.’s Trump-Russia investigation.

    Mr. Trump told reporters on Thursday that Mr. Flynn was “an innocent man” and accused Obama administration officials of targeting him to undertake to “take down a president.” He angrily tore into his unnamed persecutors. “I hope tons of individuals are getting to pay an enormous price because they’re dishonest, crooked people,” Mr. Trump said. “They’re scum — and that I say it tons, they’re scum, they’re human scum. this could never have happened during this country.”

    Mr. Barr explained the choice as an attempt to “restore confidence within the system” which enforcement officials had a requirement to dismiss the fees. He said he was “doing the law’s bidding,” not Mr. Trump’s, and therefore the Department of Justice said that it didn't brief the White House before it dropped the fees.

    “Partisan feelings are so strong that folks have lost any sense of justice,” Mr. Barr said in an interview with CBS News.
    Asked whether Mr. Flynn lied, Mr. Barr said that “people sometimes plead to things that end up to not be crimes.” 
    Sidney Powell, Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, said on Fox Business Network that she and her client were “relieved and gratified” that Mr. Barr withdrew the case. She called the choice “a restoration of the rule of law.”
    Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the F.B.I. about his conversations with Mr. Kislyak during the presidential transition. He had also entered a guilty plea a second time in 2018 at an aborted sentencing hearing. At the time, Mr. Flynn said he knew that lying to the F.B.I. was a criminal offense and accepted responsibility for what he had done.

    The climactic move by the Department of Justice seemed to be brewing in recent days after the surface prosecutors reviewing the case said that they had found new documents that were possibly exculpatory, raising the hopes of Mr. Flynn’s lawyers and vocal supporters that he would be exonerated.

    One of the documents showed that the F.B.I. was on the verge of closing a counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn’s ties to Russia in early January 2017. Mr. Shea, a longtime trusted adviser of Mr. Barr’s, said within the court filing that F.B.I. agents had no reason to interview Mr. Flynn at the White House weeks later.

    In a possible sign of disagreement, Brandon L. Van Grack, the Department of Justice lawyer who led the prosecution of Mr. Flynn, abruptly withdrew from the case on Thursday. Mr. Flynn’s lawyers have repeatedly attacked Mr. Van Grack by name in court filings, citing his “incredible malfeasance.” Other prosecutors in Mr. Shea’s office were stunned by the choice to drop the case, consistent with an individual who spoke with several lawyers within the office.

    Neither Mr. Van Grack nor other career prosecutors who have worked on the Flynn case over the past two and a half years signed their names to Mr. Shea’s court filing.
    It is now up to the federal judge in Washington overseeing the case, Emmet G. Sullivan, to make a decision whether to dismiss it and shut off the likelihood that Mr. Flynn might be tried again for an equivalent crime. If the judge wants, he could invite written submissions and hold a hearing thereon topic. 
    Judge Sullivan, who accepted Mr. Flynn’s original guilty plea, could also weigh in on whether he believes any of the new materials that the govt has produced to Mr. Flynn’s lawyers represent a violation on the part of the Department of Justice or its lawyers who worked on the case.

    The White House was prepared for the likelihood of Mr. Trump pardoning Mr. Flynn last week, consistent with two people conversant in the discussions. But some advisers urged the president to let the case play out.

    Mr. Flynn, a decorated general officer and former head of the Defense intelligence, was an early supporter of Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, joining the gang during a “lock her up” chant about Hillary Clinton, then the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, at the Republican National Convention that year.

    After winning the election, Mr. Trump named Mr. Flynn his national security adviser. In late December 2016, Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak spoke on the phone shortly after the Obama administration placed sanctions on Russia for interfering within the election, and Mr. Flynn advised that the Russians hold off on escalating in response, undermining that administration’s policy.

    The F.B.I. had been on the brink of closing its inquiry into Mr. Flynn. But as investigators discovered the conversations in early January through routine government wiretaps of Mr. Kislyak, and as they learned in subsequent days that he had lied to other White House officials about them, they began to conclude that they had reason to suspect that Mr. Flynn constituted a national security threat.

    Law enforcement officials warned the White House that Russia could have blackmailed Mr. Flynn. But seeing no move by Mr. Trump to deal with the difficulty, F.B.I. agents decided to question Mr. Flynn, where he repeatedly made false statements about his talks with Mr. Kislyak.
    Yet the agents “felt love it wasn't clear to them that he was, you know, lying or dissembling,” Andrew G. McCabe, the F.B.I. deputy director at the time told congressional investigators in an interview released on Thursday as a part of thousands of pages of witness testimony from the House Intelligence Committee’s own Russia inquiry. 
    Investigators knew Mr. Flynn’s statements were “inconsistent” with what he had told Mr. Kislyak, Mr. McCabe said. The transcripts seemed unambiguous: Mr. Flynn mentioned the sanctions, consistent with Mary McCord, a former top national security lawyer at the Department of Justice who reviewed the documents. it had been hard to imagine that Mr. Flynn “would forget talking about something he raised,” she told special counsel investigators, consistent with court papers.

    But Mr. Shea argued that the F.B.I. should never have interviewed Mr. Flynn. Agents had no got to speak with him because they were on the verge of closing the inquiry and already knew what was said on the decision due to the transcripts.

    Mr. Shea also dismissed F.B.I. concerns about Mr. Flynn lying to Mr. Pence and to a White House spokesman at the time, Sean Spicer, about the decision. Both provided misinformation to the general public, but Mr. Shea said their statements didn't “provide a separate or distinct basis for an investigation.”

    He added that if F.B.I. officials were so worried, they ought to have talked with Mr. Pence and Mr. Spicer.

    “The frail and shifting justifications for its ongoing probe of Mr. Flynn, also because the irregular procedure that preceded his interview, suggests that the F.B.I. was wanting to interview Mr. Flynn regardless of any underlying investigation,” Mr. Shea wrote.

    Less than a month after the interview, Mr. Flynn was forced to resign. consistent with the White House at the time, he was forced out because he wasn't forthcoming with Mr. Pence about his conversations with Mr. Kislyak.

    Mr. Shea also said the govt couldn't prove at any trial that Mr. Flynn lied. The admission was striking because agents had given Mr. Flynn repeated opportunities during questioning to correct his misstatements. Prosecutors had previously said that Mr. Flynn lied because he was locked into the story he had told Mr. Pence.
    Mr. Shea also said he was uncertain that prosecutors could prove that Mr. Flynn’s false statements were material to the Russian investigation.

    Mr. Van Grack had said in earlier court filings that the “topics of sanctions visited the guts of the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence investigation.” He said that “any effort to undermine those sanctions could are evidence of links or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.”

    Judge Sullivan had also said that Mr. Flynn’s statements were material to the Russian inquiry.

    Mr. Flynn cooperated extensively with the Department of Justice before hiring new lawyers last year and later moving to withdraw his plea. Ms. Powell has accused prosecutors during a blizzard of court filings of “bad faith,” pressuring her client to cooperate and withholding exculpatory evidence. Judge Sullivan forcefully rejected most of these claims.

    Last summer, Ms. Powell wrote to Mr. Barr to suggest that new prosecutors review the case, expressing her “fervent hope that you simply and therefore the Department of Justice will use this case to revive integrity and trust within the department.”

    She then confidently predicted three months afterward Fox Business’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight” that the case would be dropped. At the time, prosecutors had not yet begun the review of it.      

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