WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors moved to dismiss the case against President Trump’s former aide Michael Flynn, despite Flynn’s guilty plea on charges of lying to investigators brought by former special counsel Robert Mueller.
The move follows a months-long campaign by Flynn and his new legal team to undo his original guilty plea, which he personally confirmed two more times in court.
Flynn’s defenders have argued ferociously on cable news shows, especially FOX News, that he was entrapped by overzealous investigators.
Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, agreed to plead guilty in December 2017 to lying about his interactions with former Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak soon after the 2016 election and before Trump was sworn into office. But he later switched legal teams and launched an aggressive campaign to get the original plea thrown out.
The abrupt reversal looks certain to heighten suspicions that Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr has wielded improper political influence over the criminal justice system to protect Trump’s friends and threaten his enemies. Moments before the new filing was released, one of Mueller’s original prosecutors, Brandon Van Grack, told the judge he was quitting the case in a terse note with no explanation.
This is the second time in recent weeks that Barr’s DOJ has suddenly decided to lighten up on one of Trump’s close allies after they were found guilty in criminal court — and prompted the original prosecution team to quit in protest.
All four prosecutors in the case against longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone quit the case in February just before sentencing, after Barr personally intervened to ask the judge for a lighter sentence for Trump’s friend. Prosecutors originally asked for 7-9 years. But in a revised filing, Barr’s new team asked for “far less.”
Flynn’s cause was taken up by Trump supporters and right-wing media pundits alike, who argued Flynn was essentially hoodwinked into pleading guilty in a travesty of justice. Trump has repeatedly tweeted out praise for Flynn and criticism of the prosecutors, raising questions about whether a pardon might be in the works.
Trump’s DOJ has now determined, “based on an extensive review and careful consideration of the circumstances, that continued prosecution of this case would not serve the interests of justice,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Timothy Shea wrote in a 20-page court filing submitted Thursday.
The document asserts that the interview in which Flynn misled investigators in January 2017 was “unjustified,” despite the counterintelligence investigation into Flynn, because the FBI was preparing to close that probe down at the moment the interview took place because it hadn’t found any “derogatory information” against Flynn yet.
Prosecutors are “not persuaded that the January 24, 2017 interview was conducted with a legitimate investigative basis and therefore does not believe Mr. Flynn’s statements were material even if untrue,” Shea wrote. “Moreover, we [do] not believe that the Government can prove either the relevant false statements or their materiality beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The DOJ has also released documents showing FBI officials wondered how they should warn Flynn that lying to officials could be considered a crime.
It remains unclear how the judge will respond.
In late April, Trump said Flynn, who went on to cooperate extensively with Mueller’s investigation into the links between Trump and Russia, had been “tormented” by the case against him.
“They destroyed him,” Trump said. “But he’s going to come back.”
Cover: Michael Flynn, former U.S. national security adviser, exits federal court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, June 24, 2019. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)