President Donald Trump said he has pardoned Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser, who had pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his conversation with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Trump made the announcement Wednesday on Twitter.
The pardon brings to an apparent close a long and bitterly fought criminal case that became a cause celebre for Trump and his conservative allies, who portrayed the prosecution of Flynn as evidence of a broad conspiracy against the president.
The Justice Department wasn’t consulted in advance of Flynn’s pardon but Attorney General William Barr and his leadership team approve of the decision and were informed before it was announced, a department official said.
“This pardon is well-deserved, principled and one of President Trump’s best decisions,” Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee, led by Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, said in a tweet.
But Democrats quickly denounced the move. Representative Adam Schiff of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said “there is no doubt that a president has broad power to confer pardons, but when they are deployed to insulate himself, his family, and his associates from criminal investigation, it is a corruption of the Framers’ intent.”
“It’s no surprise that Trump would go out just as he came in — crooked to the end,” Schiff said in a statement.
Trump has exercised a president’s unrestricted clemency power with gusto, pardoning or commuting the sentences of more than three dozen convicts.
Democrats have predicted Trump will turn out a lengthy list of pardons and commutations before leaving office — perhaps including pardoning himself before losing the shield from prosecution afforded a president while in office under Justice Department policy.
There’s nothing to stop Trump from trying to clear legal clouds from political allies, family members and others caught up in what he’s persistently branded as unfair prosecutions. Among them are former campaign chief Paul Manafort, who was convicted of fraud and other crimes; confidante Roger Stone, whose sentence for obstructing the special counsel’s investigation Trump has already commuted; and even personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York.
The narrative on Flynn has swerved from his initial guilty pleas during the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, to Barr’s surprise decision in May to drop the charges and U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan’s refusal to approve the request.
QuickTake: Why Presidential Pardons Are Normal, Trump’s Less So
In September, Flynn’s lawyer, Sidney Powell, told Sullivan that she had personally asked Trump not to pardon her client while they fought to get the case dismissed.
Powell, who this month took part in Trump’s legal campaign to challenge President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, testified at a hearing as Sullivan weighed whether the Justice Department’s request to drop the case was a politically corrupt decision.
At that hearing, her meeting with Trump was seized upon by John Gleeson, a former federal judge appointed by Sullivan to argue against dismissal as a so-called friend of court. Gleeson said Trump’s “consulting with defense counsel” appeared to be part of his effort to undermine the case.
Gleeson, who has called the Justice Department’s dismissal request “corrupt and politically motivated,” said at the hearing the president wants to let Flynn “off the hook” without having to use his pardon power.
But Kenneth Kohl, a Justice Department lawyer, said the government decided to abandon the case after concluding that the FBI agents who conducted the interview with Flynn didn’t believe he’d lied, and that another agent came to the conclusion the case was brought improperly “to get Trump.”
While Justice Department leaders supported Trump’s decision to pardon Flynn, the department official said, they would have preferred to let Judge Sullivan resolve the matter in court because they were confident they would have prevailed in the move to drop the case against Flynn.
Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general who had been a director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, rose to prominence during the 2016 Trump campaign as an ardent and combative supporter of the first-time candidate.
Trump, who welcomed former generals into his cabinet, rewarded Flynn with the post of national security adviser. He resigned just weeks into the new administration amid evidence that he had misled officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about the content of his calls with the then-Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak during the transition.
Flynn falsely denied having discussed policy matters, including urging that Russia not react strongly to sanctions and other measures imposed by the soon-to-depart Obama administration.
Flynn’s fall occurred as the Russia investigation, much to the dismay of the White House, gathered strength, eventually leading to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose inquiry cast a shadow over much of Trump’s time in office.
After pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate with the government, Flynn sought to change his plea as prosecutors said he wasn’t being truthful with them.
Trump, who had asked for Flynn’s resignation, praised his former aide and denounced the case as a political assault with him as the ultimate target.
— With assistance by Billy House, Greg Farrell, and Josh Wingrove
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