Justice Department drops case against Michael Flynn — abandoning Mueller's work
The Justice Department filed a motion on Thursday to drop the charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the first case brought by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller against one of President Donald Trump's close aides.
Flynn had pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia during the presidential transition, and he admitted to working as an undisclosed agent of the Turkish government during the 2016 campaign. But after pleading guilty, Flynn eventually dropped his legal counsel, hired a much more aggressive lawyer, and moved to withdraw his plea. He has also accused the Justice Department and the FBI of misconduct against him, though no persuasive evidence for these allegations has emerged.
But the department has been reviewing the case, and the AP reported that the official leading the reviewed pushed to drop the charges.
In court documents being filed Thursday, the Justice Department 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.” The documents were obtained by The Associated Press.
The Justice Department 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 on January 24, 2017 was “conducted without any legitimate investigative basis.”
The U.S. attorney reviewing the Flynn case, Jeff Jensen, recommended the move to Attorney General William Barr last week and formalized 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.”
Prior to the news breaking of the dropped charges, prosecutor Brandon Van Grack withdrew from the case — a clear sign that changes were coming to the department's stance.
In the filing requesting that the court drop the case, the department argued Flynn wasn't properly informed about the circumstances of the charges against him when he pleaded guilty.
"Mr. Flynn previously pleaded guilty to making false statements," it said. "In the Government’s assessment, however, he did so without full awareness of the circumstances of the newly discovered, disclosed, or declassified information as to the FBI’s investigation of him."
When Flynn pleaded guilty, however, he was unequivocal, saying: "I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right."
Many legal analysts argued that the reasoning the department put forward for dropping the case was highly unusual. It argued, for example, that Flynn's lies to the FBI about his contact with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 presidential transition were not "material" to the investigators, meaning relevant to key decisions that officials may make. But the standard the Justice Department applied in this case sharply deviated from its usual position — suggesting Flynn is getting special treatment.
The argument also strained credulity. The FBI had been investigating Flynn as a potential counterintelligence threat for his potential ties to Russia. Misleading investigators about the nature of his conversation with the Russian ambassador was clearly relevant to their case. Flynn had intervened after the Obama administration his Russia for retaliatory measures for its efforts to interfere in the 2016 campaign, which was precisely what the FBI was investigating.
But none of this should be that surprising. Attorney General Bill Barr was appointed by Trump specifically to replace Jeff Sessions, who infuriated the president by refusing to interfere in the Russia investigation. Barr previously intervened in the case against Roger Stone to push the department to lower its recommendation for sentencing, a move that also conflicted with DOJ's general practice.
Barr's doing exactly what he was appointed for: undoing Mueller's work.