The Justice Department on Thursday said it is dropping the criminal case against President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, abandoning a prosecution that became a rallying cry for the president and his supporters in attacking the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation.
The action was a stunning reversal for one of the signature cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. It comes even though prosecutors for the past three years have maintained that Flynn lied to the FBI in a January 2017 interview about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.
Flynn himself admitted as much, pleading guilty before asking to withdraw the plea, and became a key cooperator for Mueller as the special counsel investigated ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.
Thursday’s action was swiftly embraced by Trump, who has relentlessly tweeted about the “outrageous” case and last week pronounced Flynn “exonerated.” It could also newly energize supporters who have taken up the retired Army lieutenant general as a cause.
But it will also add to Democratic complaints that Attorney General Barr is excessively loyal to the president, and could be a distraction for a Justice Department that for months has sought to focus on crimes arising from the coronavirus.
“He was an innocent man,” Trump declared of Flynn after the announcement. He accused Obama administration officials of targeting Flynn and said, “I hope that a big price is going to be paid.”
In court documents filed Thursday, the Justice Department said it is dropping the case “after a considered review of all the facts and circumstances of this case, including newly discovered and disclosed information.” The documents were obtained by The Associated Press.
The department said it had concluded that Flynn’s interview by the FBI was “untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn” and that the interview was “conducted without any legitimate investigative basis.”
The U.S. attorney reviewing the Flynn case, Jeff Jensen, formally recommended dropping it to Barr last week, the course of action vehemently and publicly recommended by Trump, who appointed Barr to head the Justice Department.