The US Department of Justice has moved to drop a criminal case against Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser to Donald Trump who pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia’s then-ambassador to the US.
Mr Flynn, who had since sought to withdraw his guilty plea, was still awaiting sentencing when US prosecutors filed a motion with the federal court in Washington on Thursday afternoon to dismiss the charges. The move garnered praise from Mr Trump and sparked outrage among Democrats, who said the justice department was “politicised and thoroughly corrupt”.
Mr Flynn, a retired three-star general and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was one of the first Trump administration officials to co-operate with Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
He pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI, saying at the time that he recognised his actions were “wrong” and he took “full responsibility” for what he had done.
“My guilty plea and agreement to co-operate with the special counsel’s office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country,” he said at the time.
But Mr Flynn later fired his lawyers. His new legal team, including Sidney Powell, a prominent critic of Mr Mueller, have sought to withdraw his guilty plea and repeatedly alleged the retired general was “set up and framed by corrupt agents at the top of the FBI”.
Lawyers for Mr Flynn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this year, William Barr, the US attorney-general, tapped Jeffrey Jensen, US attorney for the eastern district of Missouri, to review the handling of Mr Flynn’s case.
Mr Jensen said in a statement on Thursday: “Through the course of my review of General Flynn’s case, I concluded the proper and just course was to dismiss the case. I briefed attorney-general Barr on my findings, advised him on these conclusions, and he agreed.”
Just hours before the government’s motion to dismiss was filed, one of the prosecutors on the case, Brandon Van Grack, abruptly withdrew without providing any explanation. He had previously been part of Mr Mueller’s team of prosecutors.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, called the move a “cover up” and accused Mr Barr of allowing political considerations to influence criminal justice.
“Attorney-general Barr’s politicisation of justice knows no bounds,” Ms Pelosi said.
Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic congressman from New York who chairs the House judiciary committee, called the decision “outrageous”, saying he would ask the justice department’s inspector-general to investigate the case.
“The evidence against General Flynn is overwhelming,” Mr Nadler said. “He pleaded guilty to lying to investigators. And now a politicised and thoroughly corrupt Department of Justice is going to let the president’s crony simply walk away.”
But the president praised the move, telling reporters at the White House that Mr Flynn was “an innocent man” and a “great gentleman”. Mr Trump had previously suggested he was open to pardoning Mr Flynn, a key member of the president’s 2016 campaign, transition team and initial White House staff. Mr Flynn resigned as national security adviser after 24 days in the role.
The president said Mr Flynn had been “targeted by the Obama administration . . . in order to try and take down a president”, adding: “I hope a big price is going to be paid.
“They are dishonest, crooked people. They are scum and I say it a lot, they are scum, they are human scum,” Mr Trump added. “This should never have happened in this country.
“The Obama administration justice department was a disgrace and they got caught,” the president said. “It’s treason, it’s treason.”
The government’s motion will have to be approved by the court. The judge overseeing Mr Flynn’s case, Emmet Sullivan, has been critical of the retired general in the past. At a sentencing hearing for Mr Flynn in 2018 that was ultimately postponed, the judge told him: “Arguably, you sold your country out.”