Watergate prosecutors call for judge to ignore Justice Department recommendation to drop Flynn case

Legal experts from Nixon scandal urge judge to consider parallels with Trump administration

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 13 May 2020 21:24
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Bill Barr on decision to drop Michael Flynn case

More than a dozen former Department of Justice prosecutors assigned to Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal have asked a federal judge to consider prosecuting Michael Flynn following a motion from Donald Trump's Justice Department to drop charges against him after he admitted lying to the FBI.

In legal filings, the former prosecutors argued that Judge Emmet Sullivan has authority to reject a request to dismiss a sentence imposed on the president's former national security adviser, who was charged with lying to the FBI about his campaign conversations with a Russian ambassador to the US in 2016.

The 16 prosecutors compared the case to the criminal investigation that led to Nixon's resignation from the White House as his impeachment loomed.

Prosecutors have urged a federal judge to consider the "unique perspective on the need for independent scrutiny and oversight to ensure that crucial decisions about prosecutions of high-ranking government officials are made in the public interest, are viewed as legitimate and are not subsequently reversed by political intervention."

In their roles on the Watergate case, the prosecutors "investigated serious abuses of power" committed by the former president and "prosecuted many of President Nixon's aides for their complicity in his defence," the team wrote in court filings.

"More than any episode in modern history, the Watergate scandal exemplified how unchecked political influence in the Justice Department can erode the public trust," the group said.

Prosecutors also "experienced the 'Saturday Night Massacre,' during which an honourable Attorney General and an honourable Deputy Attorney General resigned or were dismissed rather than obey the instructions of a self-interested president to frustrate the work of an independent special prosecutor," the group wrote.

"The parallels and the contrasts between the Watergate affair and the present situation now before this court make manifest that [the prosecutors] have a direct and substantial interest in the proper disposition" of Attorney General WIlliam Barr's pending motion "to protect a close ally" of Mr Trump, prosecutors argued.

Critics have argued that the president and his attorney general have gutted independence from the administration's Justice Department, particularly in cases involving the president's allies, following Flynn's case and Roger Stone's sentencing, which Mr Barr had reduced despite sentencing guidelines seeking up to nine years in prison for his multiple-count conviction of obstruction and lying to Congress.

Judge Sullivan, the federal judge in Flynn's case, filed an order on Tuesday seeking amicus briefs, or "friend of the court" briefs, from counsel with "an interest in some other case that may be affected by the decision in the present case."

Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to "willfully" making false statements to the FBI (and Vice President Mike Pence) about his contacts with then Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.

He was among the first casualties of the scandal and booted from the White House in the first weeks of Mr Trump's term in office.

Watergate prosecutors' notice to the judge says that Mr Barr's Justice Department is trying to convince the judge that "even at this late stage, after a pair of guilty pleas accepted by court order ... it may freely dismiss the prosecution."

"The government admonishes the court not to 'second-guess' its determination that dismissal is in the public interest," the group says.

But prosecutors argue that he court can exercise its authority when "it appears that the assigned reason for the dismissal has no basis in fact".

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