The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday said it is dropping the criminal case against President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, abandoning a prosecution that became a rallying cry for the president and his supporters in attacking the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation.
The move is a stunning reversal for one of the signature cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. It comes even though prosecutors for the past three years have maintained that Flynn lied to the FBI in a January 2017 interview about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.
Flynn himself admitted as much, pleading guilty before asking to withdraw the plea, and becoming a key witness for Mueller as the special counsel investigated ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.
In court documents filed Thursday, the DOJ said it is dropping the case “after a considered review of all the facts and circumstances of this case, including newly discovered and disclosed information.”
In the filing, the DOJ said it had concluded that Flynn’s interview by the FBI was “untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn” and that the interview was “conducted without any legitimate investigative basis”.
I 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2017
The US attorney reviewing the Flynn case, Jeff Jensen, recommended dropping the case to US Attorney General William Barr last week and formalised the recommendation in a document this week.
“Through the course of my review of General Flynn’s case, I concluded the proper and just course was to dismiss the case,” Jensen said in a statement. “I briefed Attorney General Barr on my findings, advised him on these conclusions, and he agreed.”
The decision is certain to be embraced by Trump, who has relentlessly tweeted about the case and last week pronounced Flynn “exonerated”. The ruling is also likely to energise supporters who have taken up the retired Army lieutenant general as a cause. But it will also add to Democratic complaints that Barr is excessively loyal to the president, and could be a distraction for a DOJ that for months has sought to focus on crimes arising from the coronavirus.
What happened to General Michael Flynn, a war hero, should never be allowed to happen to a citizen of the United States again!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 30, 2020
Earlier this year, Barr appointed US Attorney Jeff Jensen of St Louis to investigate the handling of Flynn’s case. As part of that process, the DOJ gave Flynn’s attorneys a series of emails and notes, including one handwritten note from a senior FBI official that mapped out internal deliberations about the purpose of the Flynn interview. “What’s our goal? Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” the official wrote.
Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017, among the first of the president’s aides to admit guilt in Mueller’s investigation. He acknowledged that he lied about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in which he encouraged Russia not to retaliate against the US for sanctions imposed by the Obama administration over election interference.
He provided such extensive cooperation that prosecutors said he was entitled to a sentence of probation instead of prison.