US court orders case against former NSA Michael Flynn dropped

The court sided with Flynn who had been seeking to withdraw a guilty plea in which he admitted lying to the FBI.

Michael Flynn
The US Department of Justice had sought to drop charges against Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, last month but a federal judge intervened [File: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo]

A US appeals court on Wednesday directed a federal judge to drop the criminal case against President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn as demanded by the Justice Department, preventing a judicial review of the propriety of the request.

In a split decision, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favour of Flynn and the Trump administration in preventing US District Judge Emmet Sullivan from exercising his discretion on whether to grant the department’s motion to clear  Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to contempt charges in relation to lying to the FBI.

Flynn, a retired army lieutenant general who served as an adviser to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election campaign, had been seeking to withdraw his 2017 guilty plea in which he admitted to lying to the FBI about interactions with Russia’s ambassador to the US in the weeks before Trump took office.

Flynn’s lawyers, both in court and in public, argued that he was ambushed as part of a plot by biased investigators and that the case should be dismissed.

Trump said in March he was considering a pardon for Flynn, who briefly served as the president’s top in-house adviser on national security concerns.

The president tweeted in support of the decision, calling it “Great”, shortly after the ruling was announced.  

The US Justice Department said last month it would drop the charges, but Judge Sullivan wanted to scrutinise the decision further.

“In this case, the district court’s actions will result in specific harms to the exercise of the executive branch’s exclusive prosecutorial power,” Judge Neomi Rao, who was appointed by Trump, wrote in the majority opinion. 

Trump supporters took to social media to praise the decision, saying it moved the US closer to justice. 

Democratic derision 

Judge Robert Wilkins, an Obama appointee, wrote in the dissent that it “is a great irony that, in finding the District Court to have exceeded its jurisdiction, this Court so grievously oversteps its own”.

The ruling is likely to anger Democrats, who have accused Attorney General William Barr of improperly meddling in criminal cases to help benefit Trump’s friends and political allies.

Zac Petkanas, a political consultant and former senior staffer for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 presidential election, called it “stunning”. 

In seeking to have the case dismissed, the Justice Department said the FBI had insufficient basis to question Flynn in the first place and that statements he made during the interview were not material to the broader counterintelligence investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

The department said that dismissing the case was in the interest of justice, and that it was following the recommendation of a US attorney who had been appointed by Barr to investigate the handling of the Flynn investigation.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies