The Justice Department is dropping its case against Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, who was fired after just weeks into the job for lying about the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador.
The move quickly drew criticism that the Justice Department was working to reverse aspects of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, long derided by Trump and also criticized by Attorney General William Barr.
Flynn pleaded guilty on Dec. 1, 2017 to one count of lying to the FBI, part of an agreement he reached with federal prosecutors in exchange for cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.
But Flynn’s attorneys had sought to retract that plea in advance of his sentencing, while Barr had tapped U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen earlier this year to review the Flynn case, and Jensen recommended that the case be dropped.
“The government is not persuaded that the January 24, 2017 [FBI] interview was conducted with a legitimate investigative basis and therefore does not believe Mr. Flynn’s statements were material even if untrue,” the Justice Department wrote in a filing to U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan. “Moreover, we not believe that the Government can prove either the relevant false statements or their materiality beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Sullivan still must approve the government’s motion to dismiss.
The case was recently back in the spotlight, more than a year after Mueller concluded his investigation, after the Justice Department disclosed to Flynn’s attorneys notes from FBI officials as they deliberated the case. Flynn’s attorneys zeroed in on one note in particular, from a senior FBI official, as they prepared to interview him. “What’s our goal? Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” Flynn’s defenders have pointed to the comment as evidence that the FBI sought to entrap him.
Flynn was interviewed on Jan. 24, 2017.
Later that year, in Mueller’s indictment, prosecutors said that Flynn lied when he denied that, in a Dec. 29, 2016, conversation, he asked Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to “refrain from escalating the situation” in Russia’s response to the imposition of sanctions by the Obama administration. Flynn also denied that Kislyak told him that Russia would moderate its reaction.
“I recognize that the actions that I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right,” Flynn said in a statement at the time of his indictment. “My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
Flynn was fired on Feb. 13, 2017, the shortest tenure of any national security adviser.
In a tweet on Dec. 2, 2017, Trump wrote that he “had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”
Reacting to the move to dismiss the case against Flynn, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote on Twitter, “This is outrageous! Flynn PLEADED GUILTY to lying to investigators. The evidence against him is overwhelming. Now, a politicized DOJ is dropping the case.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, “Attorney General Barr’s politicization of justice knows no bounds. Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators in the face of overwhelming evidence – but now, Attorney General Barr’s Justice Department is dropping the case to continue to cover up for the President. Overruling the Special Counsel is without precedent and without respect for the rule of law.”
James Comey, who was FBI director during the period of the Flynn interview, wrote on Twitter, “The DOJ has lost its way. But, career people: please stay because America needs you. The country is hungry for honest, competent leadership.”
Trump, reacting to the news, said that he hopes that those who were involved in Flynn’s prosecution
“are going to pay a big price because they’re dishonest, crooked people.” He called them “human scum.” He also targeted, without naming them, the reporters at The Washington Post and The New York Times who won Pulitzer Prizes in 2018 for coverage of the Russia story.
“They’re not journalists,” Trump said. “They’re thieves. All of those journalists that we see with the Pulitzer Prize should be forced to give those Pulitzer Prizes back because they were all wrong. You saw it today, more documents came out saying there was absolutely no collusion with Russia.”