Michael Flynn: Appeals court lets Justice Department drop case against former Trump aide

A federal district court judge had previously intervened in the DOJ's decision to drop the case

Griffin Connolly
Wednesday 24 June 2020 16:27 BST
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Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn is free to go, the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia has ruled, allowing the Department of Justice to drop its case against him.

A three-judge panel from the powerful DC circuit court on Wednesday granted the former Trump aide's petition to intervene in his case after the district court judge presiding over it had moved to prevent the DOJ from abruptly dropping it.

The two Republican-appointed judges voted to allow the DOJ to dismiss the case, while a judge appointed by former President Barack Obama voted to allow the district court judge, Emmet Sullivan, to continue examining why the DOJ decided to drop the case after more than two years of prosecution and securing multiple guilty pleas.

Mr Flynn had been accused of — and previously pleaded guilty to — lying to the FBI about his communications with former Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in late 2016 and early 2017.

"In this case, the district court’s actions will result in specific harms to the exercise of the Executive Branch’s exclusive prosecutorial power," Judge Neomi Rao wrote for the majority.

Ms Rao, who was appointed by Mr Trump, appeared to call into question the legitimacy of the 2016 FBI counterintelligence investigation into possible links between Mr Trump's associates and Russia, which led to Mr Flynn's confrontation with the FBI.

"If evidence comes to light calling into question the integrity or purpose of an underlying criminal investigation, the Executive Branch must have the authority to decide that further prosecution is not in the interest of justice," Ms Rao wrote.

Earlier this month, Mr Sullivan appointed another former federal judge to review the DOJ's motion to dismiss the case. That retired judge, John Gleeson, authored a scathing amicus brief indicating that the DOJ's decision to drop Mr Flynn's case was politically motivated.

The DOJ’s grounds for dismissal of the charges against Mr Flynn “reveal an unconvincing effort to disguise as legitimate a decision to dismiss that is based solely on the fact that Flynn is a political ally of Mr Trump,” Mr Gleeson wrote.

After Mr Flynn initially pleaded guilty, he later revoked that plea, arguing that the FBI agents who interviewed him on 24 January 2017 unfairly targeted him due to his political connection with the incoming president.

But those statements do not square with Mr Flynn’s previous admissions under oath, Mr Gleeson wrote, providing “more than sufficient evidence” for the government to file additional perjury charges against him.

"A false eleventh-hour disavowal of a plea and a trumped-up accusation of government misconduct constitute obstruction of the administration of justice," Mr Gleeson wrote.

Mr Flynn's case cuts to the core of Mr Trump's message catering to many Americans' anti-establishment sentiments. The president has lambasted as "human scum" the top FBI and DOJ officials probing his associates' potential ties with Russia.

Mr Trump took a victory lap after the circuit court's decision on Wednesday.

"Great! Appeals Court Upholds Justice Departments Request To Drop Criminal Case Against General Michael Flynn!" the president tweeted.

The circuit court's decision to allow the DOJ to drop the case comes the same day as the House Judiciary Committee hears from witnesses to examine the "unprecedented politicization" of the department by Attorney General William Barr.

A lawyer who worked on the team of former special counsel Robert Mueller, Aaron Zelinsky, testified that he was pressured by higher-ups to give former Trump campaign aide Roger Stone "a break" during his prosecution for lying to Congress.

"What I heard – repeatedly – was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President," Mr Zelinsky said.

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