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.
Great! Appeals Court Upholds Justice Departments Request To Drop Criminal Case Against General Michael Flynn!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2020
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.
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”.
It is kind of stunning how much political capital the Trump Team is willing to blow trying to resurrect the traitorous Michael Flynn's reputation after he PLEADED GUILTY to federal crimes.
It's a real choice.
— Zac Petkanas (@Zac_Petkanas) June 24, 2020
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.