The U.S. Justice Department 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 became a key cooperator for Mueller the special counsel investigated ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.
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 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 was “conducted without any legitimate investigative basis.”
The U.S. attorney reviewing the Flynn case, Jeff Jensen, recommended dropping the case 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.”
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The decision is certain to be embraced by Trump, who has relentlessly tweeted about the case and last week pronounced Flynn “exonerated,” and to energize supporters who have taken up the retired Army lieutenant general as a cause. But it will also add to Democratic complaints that Attorney General William Barr is excessively loyal to the president, and could be a distraction for a Justice Department that for months has sought to focus on crimes arising from the coronavirus.
The Department’s action comes amid an internal review into the handling he case and an aggressive effort by Flynn’s lawyers to challenge the basis for the prosecution. The lawyers cited newly disclosed FBI emails and notes last week to allege that Flynn was improperly trapped into lying when agents interviewed him at the White House days after Trump’s inauguration. Though none of the documents appeared to undercut the central allegation that Flynn had lied to the FBI, Trump last week pronounced him “exonerated.”
The decision is the latest dramatic development in a years-old case full of twists and turns. In recent months, Flynn’s attorneys have levelled a series of allegations about the FBI’s actions and asked to withdraw his guilty plea. A judge has rejected most of the claims and not ruled on others, including the bid to revoke the plea.
The decision comes as Barr has increasingly challenged the Russia investigation, saying in a television interview last month that it was started “without any basis.” In February, he overruled a decision by prosecutors in the case of Roger Stone, another former Trump adviser, in favour of a more lenient sentence for the longtime Trump friend.