President Donald Trump said Wednesday he had pardoned Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser, who pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents three years ago.
The pardon came before a judge ruled on a pending motion by the US Department of Justice to dismiss the case and Flynn’s guilty plea. Flynn had twice admitted before a federal judge that he had made false statements to FBI agents about the nature of his talks with the Russian ambassador to the United States in the weeks leading up to Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.
“It is my great honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has received a full pardon,” Trump wrote in a Twitter post.
“Congratulations to @ GenFlynn and his wonderful family, I know you are going to have a really fantastic Thanksgiving Day! “
Trump has repeatedly said he was considering granting a pardon to the retired Army Lieutenant General, whom he dismissed as his national security adviser in early 2017, after Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his talks with the Russian diplomat.
And there was widespread speculation after Democratic candidate Joe Biden won the presidential election that Trump would forgive Flynn and others in his final weeks at the White House.
Trump has so far refused to allow the election. But he has little chance of undoing Biden’s victory through legal contestation of ballots or referendum censuses, which means he likely has less than two months to issue pardons or commutations.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement: “The President has pardoned General Flynn because he should never be prosecuted.”
“An independent Justice Department review of General Flynn’s case – conducted by distinguished career professionals – supports this conclusion,” said McEnany. “Indeed, the Justice Department has firmly determined that the charges against General Flynn should be dropped. This pardon accomplishes that goal and ultimately ends the relentless, partisan persecution of an innocent man.”
“General Flynn shouldn’t be asking for a pardon. He’s an innocent man,” she said. “Even the FBI agents interviewing General Flynn did not believe he was lying. Multiple investigations have produced evidence that General Flynn was the victim of partisan government officials who made a coordinated attempt to undermine the 2016 election . “
A Justice Department official told NBC News that Flynn’s pardon was “an appropriate use of the president’s pardon power.”
A spokesman for the Biden transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the pardon.
Less than two hours before Trump’s announcement, Flynn tweeted a verse from the book of Jeremiah in the Bible that said, “And they will fight you; but they will not win against you; for I am with you, says the Lord to rescue.” you.”
Flynn’s defense attorney Sidney Powell told Judge Emmet Sullivan, who handled the case, in September that she had spoken directly to Trump about the “overall status” of litigation.
Powell also said at a court hearing that she asked Trump “not to apologize” to Flynn while continuing to seek dismissal, as requested by the Justice Department.
In a statement on Wednesday, Powell said: “The pardon for Michael Flynn rests entirely with the president. Given the corruption we have observed in the judiciary and in several government agencies executed against General Flynn, this persecution should end.”
“The FBI and [Department of Justice] have been a national embarrassment for more than 15 years, “Powell said.
“It was my burning hope to get our judicial system to exonerate an innocent man – as any leftist would wish he was someone other than Trump or Michael Flynn, but enough is enough. This is sick. It’s painfully obvious that Judge Sullivan is playing an evil political game on the life and family of a good man. “
Powell was effectively fired from Trump’s own electoral law team earlier this week when she alleged, without evidence, widespread electoral fraud that included her suggestion that the Republican governor and secretary of state of Georgia was part of a conspiracy to steal the election for Biden there.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has blown Trump for the pardon.
“Donald Trump has repeatedly abused the pardon to reward friends and protect those who covered him up,” Schiff said in a tweet. “This time he apologizes to Michael Flynn who lied to hide his dealings with the Russians.”
“It’s no surprise that if Trump came in, Trump would go out – crooked to the end.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., A member of the Justice Committee, said, “President Trump’s pardon for Michael Flynn is as lazy as it is unsurprising.”
“As a reminder, Michael Flynn pleaded guilty twice to lying to federal investigators in order to cover up his secret communications with the Russian government. His crimes endangered our national security and undermined our judicial system,” said Blumenthal.
“President Trump dangled this pardon in an overt attempt to get Michael Flynn to forego his agreement to work with federal investigators – and now he appears to have been rewarded for his misconduct. I am eagerly awaiting the inauguration a president who believes and pretends. ” No person – no matter how well connected – is above the law. ”
Trump has previously graced the executive branch of other political allies.
In July, Trump reversed the verdict of longtime Republican agent Roger Stone, who was convicted of Congress lying, obstruction, and witness manipulation as part of Russia’s Special Envoy Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. That conversion came just days before Stone was due to begin a 40-month sentence.
As in Flynn’s case, Trump had labeled Stone’s indictment a “witch hunt”.
In May 2018, Trump pardoned Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative expert and filmmaker. D’Souza was convicted in 2014 of making an illegal campaign contribution.
Flynn pleaded guilty on December 1, 2017, during a hearing in Sullivan’s court.
Flynn admitted falsely telling agents that he and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak failed to discuss the need for Russia not to take revenge on the United States for sanctions the outgoing Obama administration as punishment for meddling in held the 2016 presidential election against Russia.
As part of his plea, he agreed to cooperate with the investigation into Russian interference in the election conducted by Mueller, the former FBI director, and possible coordination with members of Trump’s campaign.
Flynn’s scheduled December 2018 hearing was cut short after Sullivan proposed selling off the United States in his actions and after the judge proposed that he be sentenced to prison.
Sullivan agreed to postpone the conviction in order to give Flynn time to end his association with Mueller’s investigation.
But months later, Flynn hired Powell as his new attorney and began to reverse his guilty plea by alleging wrongdoing by the federal prosecutor.
After months of opposing Flynn’s efforts, the Justice Department filed a motion earlier this year to dismiss the case.
In one filing, then US interim attorney for the District of Columbia, Timothy Shea, argued that the FBI’s interview with Flynn was not warranted by a counterintelligence investigation and that his lies about what he told a Russian diplomat are not “material “be this probe.
But Sullivan refused to immediately sign the dismissal.
Instead, the judge appointed an outside attorney to submit arguments against the Justice Department’s request.
That attorney, former federal judge John Gleeson, later told Sullivan that the Department of Justice committed “a gross abuse of law enforcement powers” in asking for the case to be dropped.
“The government has acted very erratically to aid a political ally of the president,” Gleeson wrote in a damning trial.
Flynn called on the U.S. District of Columbia Circuit Appeals Court to force Sullivan to dismiss his case and prevent the judge from admitting Gleeson as an attorney against the Justice Department position.
A three-judge panel from that appeals court agreed with his decision that the case should be dismissed.
But Sullivan then asked the full list of judges in that appeals court to reconsider that decision.
The appeals court did so and sent the case back to the judge to see if the DOJ’s motion for dismissal should be upheld.
Although Sullivan held a hearing on the case in late September, he had yet to decide whether the case should be dismissed. If he had denied the motion, Flynn would almost certainly have appealed that denial.
Such an objection, however, likely would not have been resolved before Trump stepped down from office in late January.
– CNBC’s Christina Wilkie contributed to this report.