President Trump on Thursday cheered the Justice Department’s move to drop the criminal case against Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, calling his former national security adviser an “innocent man” and a “warrior.”
“He was an innocent man,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday afternoon. “He is a great gentleman. He was targeted by the Obama administration and he was targeted in order to try and take down a president, and what they’ve done is a disgrace, and I hope a big price is going to be paid.”
“Now in my book he’s an even greater warrior,” Trump said of Flynn.
The Justice Department moved to dismiss the case against Flynn just minutes before Trump was asked about the decision, saying it no longer believed it could prove the case. Trump said he wasn’t aware of the Justice Department’s move ahead of time but said he “felt it was going to happen” based on recent developments.
The department said it had concluded that the interview during which Flynn later admitted he lied was “untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation” into the former national security adviser.
The Justice Department also said it was “not persuaded that the January 24, 2017 interview was conducted with a legitimate investigative basis and therefore does not believe Mr. Flynn’s statements were material even if untrue.”
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, a Clinton appointee who is overseeing Flynn’s case, will need to approve the decision to withdraw the case.
Elie Honig, a legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, said it was very unlikely Sullivan would reject the department’s bid to drop the case.
The development would mark a sudden end to the criminal case against Flynn more than two years after he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during that January 2017 interview as part of a deal to cooperate with former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Flynn sought to withdraw his guilty plea earlier this year, alleging prosecutorial misconduct.
Trump, who has long castigated the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt,” on Thursday decried FBI officials as “dishonest, crooked people” and “scum” and accused the Obama administration of unfairly targeting his campaign, suggesting at one point agents were guilty of treason. A Justice Department inspector general review completed last year found no evidence that FBI agents were motivated by bias in the decision to open the Russia probe, however.
The Justice Department’s move Thursday was met with cheers from the president’s allies.
“Finally justice has been done in the case of General Flynn,” tweeted Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney who represented him during the Mueller investigation.
At the same time, critics accused Attorney General William Barr of politicizing the work of the Justice Department.
“Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his illicit Russian contacts,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). “His lies do not now become truths. This dismissal does not exonerate him. But it does incriminate Bill Barr. In the worst politicization of the Justice Department in its history.”
The stunning decision comes a week after new documents produced in connection with Flynn’s case showed prosecutors discussing how to handle the interview. In one hand-written note included among the documents, an unnamed FBI official asked, “What’s our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”
Flynn’s attorneys said the documents strengthened their case that Flynn was the victim of misconduct, though some legal experts who spoke with The Hill disputed the significance of the communications and described such discussions about interviews as routine.
“If you’re not strategizing that way, you’re not doing your job,” said Honig.
Trump seized on revelations last week, saying Flynn had been “essentially exonerated” and lambasting FBI officials over their handling of the case. He also left open the possibility that Flynn could rejoin the administration. The president said Thursday he would reach out to Flynn “at the appropriate time,” calling him a “hero.”
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Trump has consistently eviscerated Mueller’s investigation and the FBI’s treatment of Flynn and other associates of his campaign, leaving open the possibility he may pardon Flynn or longtime friend Roger Stone.
Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser and a key 2016 campaign surrogate, was ousted from the White House in February 2017 after it was revealed that he misled Vice President Pence about his contacts with the Russian diplomat. He was one of six Trump associates who faced charges in connection with Mueller’s investigation, which concluded last year.
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