FBI director orders review of Michael Flynn investigation at heart of 'Obamagate' conspiracy theory

Bureau did not specify what potential misconduct it is looking for

Eric Tucker
Friday 22 May 2020 23:25 BST
Bill Barr on decision to drop Michael Flynn case

FBI Director Christopher Wray has ordered an internal review into possible misconduct in the investigation of former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn, the bureau said on Friday.

The after-action review will examine whether any current employees engaged in misconduct during the course of the investigation and evaluate whether any improvements in FBI policies and procedures need to be made.

In announcing the review, the FBI, a frequent target of President Donald Trump’s wrath, is stepping into a case that has become a rallying cry for Trump supporters — and doing so right as the Justice Department pushes back against criticism that its recent decision to dismiss the prosecution was a politically motivated effort to do Mr Trump’s bidding.

The announcement adds to the internal scrutiny over one of special counsel Robert Mueller’s signature prosecutions during his investigation into ties between Russia and Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. It underscores how a case that was seemingly resolved by Flynn’s 2017 guilty plea has instead given way to a protracted, politically charged debate about FBI and Justice Department tactics during that prosecution and the Russia probe more broadly.

The unusual review will be led by the bureau’s Inspection Division, which conducts internal investigations into potential employee misconduct. Mr Trump has recently been sharply critical of the FBI, and two weeks ago even suggested that Mr Wray’s fate as director was in limbo, but an FBI official said on Friday that the review had been contemplated for some time.

Although the FBI does not have authority on its own to bring a criminal prosecution, the after-action review will look at whether any current employees engaged in misconduct deserving of discipline. The division cannot take disciplinary action against former employees.

It is not clear how many officials involved in the Flynn investigation remain with the FBI. Several prominent officials — including former Director James Comey, former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former agent Peter Strzok, who interviewed Flynn — have either been fired or have otherwise left the bureau.

The FBI did not say what sort of potential misconduct it was looking for in the investigation of Mr Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to agents about conversations with the then-Russian ambassador during the presidential transition. But the case has long been a subject of outrage for Mr Trump and his allies, who have alleged that Flynn was effectively set up to lie when the FBI questioned him at the White House in January 2017.

Those concerns were given new life earlier this month when the Justice Department moved to dismiss the case and identified a series of what it says were problems in the way Mr Flynn was investigated.

The department’s motion to dismiss alleges that agents had insufficient basis to interview Flynn in the first place, especially since the FBI had been prepared earlier in the month to close out its investigation into Flynn after finding no crime. It says any imperfect statements he may have made during the interview were not material to the underlying investigation into ties between Russia and Mr Trump’s presidential campaign.

Attorney General William Barr, who earlier this year overruled the sentencing recommendation of prosecutors in the case of Mr Trump associate Roger Stone, defended the Flynn decision and said in a television interview that he was doing the “law’s bidding” and correcting what he felt was an injustice.

The Justice Department noted that he was acting on the recommendation of US Attorney Jeff Jensen of St Louis, who was assigned by Barr to review the Flynn case.

But the move outraged former law enforcement officials involved in the case, who said the Justice Department had ignored the seriousness of the false statements that Mr Flynn had admitted making as well as the gravity of their national security concerns about Flynn’s interactions with the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

Flynn admitted in his guilty plea that he lied about having asked Kislyak to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions imposed against Russia by the Obama administration for election interference. Obama administration Justice Department officials subsequently warned the Trump White House about that conversation, saying public misrepresentations about it left Flynn vulnerable to being blackmailed by Russia.

The request to dismiss the case has triggered its own internal back-and-forth in the courts.

US District Judge Emmet Sullivan has assigned a retired judge to argue against the Justice Department’s position. Flynn’s attorneys have asked a federal appeals court to order Sullivan to dismiss the case and to reassign any future court proceedings to another judge. An appeals court panel, meanwhile, has asked Sullivan to respond to the defence request.

The FBI said that in addition to its own internal review, it has cooperated and been transparent with multiple inquiries assigned by Barr, including lending its own agents to the Jensen probe.

“Director Wray authorised this additional level of review now that the Department of Justice, through Mr Jensen’s work, has developed sufficient information to determine how to proceed in the Flynn case,” the FBI statement said. “However, Mr Jensen’s work will continue to take priority, and the Director has further ordered the Inspection Division to coordinate closely with Mr Jensen and ensure that the review does not interfere with or impede his efforts.”

The Associated Press

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