Before Flynn reversed course, he worked with special adviser Robert Mueller for nearly two years, including providing evidence of a possible obstruction of justice by the president. He sat for 19 interviews with prosecutors.
Trump had long been expected to beat Flynn, the prosecutors, and the FBI for handling the case, as part of a concerted attack on the investigation against him. Trump has falsely accused the FBI and the Justice Department of carrying out a “coup” against him in the years following his election. Trump also repeatedly attacked prosecutors and FBI officials implicated in the Flynn case despite firing Flynn for lying to both the office and Vice President Mike Pence in early 2017.
Though the pardon was a long time coming, Trump let Flynn’s legal drama play for more than three years and waited until after the November 3 elections to grant pardon, a signal of how politically explosive the case has become. Flynn has become a revered figure among Trump’s grassroots, and Flynn’s attorney – conservative brand Sidney Powell – has recently become a prominent Trump replacement promoting unsubstantiated conspiracy theories of election fraud against Trump.
Top Democrats have already warned that they would view any effort by Trump to apologize to his staff as an abuse of power, similar to what the House indicted him almost a year ago. Following the pardon, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler criticized the decision as an erosion of the rule of law to reward an ally for resisting an investigation in which Trump himself was involved .
Republicans celebrated the decision. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows called it “a well-deserved day for an American patriot”.
The pardon comes as a Washington DC federal judge Emmet Sullivan weighs whether Trump’s Justice Department can dismiss Flynn’s charges. Attorney General William Barr approved the dismissal amid the ongoing lawsuit for Flynn and alerted DOJ veterans who were concerned that he had distorted the process for the benefit of a political ally of the president.
However, Sullivan refused to immediately dismiss the case and instead sought an outside advisor, who argued that the Justice Department’s legal argument for dismissing the case as an excuse to support a Trump ally should be rejected. Sullivan has been pondering a final decision since late September when he held a hearing and learned that Powell had been in contact with Trump about the case. Sullivan has also raised the alarm about documents the DOJ relied on in the case seemed to have been changed although Justice Department officials insisted the changes were accidental.
It is unclear whether Sullivan will end the matter immediately or continue investigating his options, as he has raised concerns that Flynn may have lied under oath about the circumstances of his consent.
Trump’s pardon is just his latest act of grace for a close associate involved in the Russia investigation. He also attacked Justice Department prosecutors, including former members of Müller’s team who helped secure the conviction of longtime advisor and friend Roger Stone for lying to congressional investigators and intimidating a witness. In July, Trump overturned Stone’s verdict but failed to issue a full pardon, even though Stone has asked for one in recent days. Trump’s direct efforts on behalf of his staff upset the Justice Department earlier this year, prompting Barr to issue a seemingly veiled threat to resign.
Even so, Trump continued his attacks on the Justice Department and the FBI, and Barr has remained silent.
Flynn was Trump’s national security advisor for just 24 days after Trump took office in 2017. Trump removed him in the last few days of 2016 amid numerous questions about Flynn’s contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, while the outgoing Obama administration was at the same level of sanctions against Russia for influencing the Kremlin’s election.
Almost 10 months after Flynn’s departure, he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about these interactions and admitted that he had also stood up for the Turkish government – while advising Trump – without revealing it.
But Flynn’s allies long claimed that Flynn was founded by the FBI and pleaded guilty. And when Sullivan, the judge in Flynn’s case, appeared ready to sentence Flynn to jail in late 2018, Flynn abandoned his collaborative strategy and fired his legal team.
He then fired his legal team and hired Powell, a Fox News favorite who once wrote positive of Sullivan but has since relentlessly attacked him as biased. Flynn later moved to set aside his guilty plea, accusing the FBI and Justice Department of trapping him to pursue a case against Trump.
Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under Barack Obama, first drew the FBI’s attention to his visit to Moscow in December 2015, where he was sitting at a table with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a dinner on Russian television station RT. When the FBI opened an anti-espionage investigation into people related to the Trump campaign in July 2016 – a probe codenamed Crossfire Hurricane – Flynn was one of four Trump allies specifically identified as a potential threat.
Although documents released as part of Flynn’s efforts to dismiss his case indicated that the FBI was preparing to complete the Flynn portion of the investigation by the end of 2016, the calls to Kislyak led the office to reverse course . On January 5, 2017, Obama discussed the case with his national security team and asked if he should have concerns about sharing confidential information with the incoming administration. Obama had previously warned Trump against hiring Flynn, but Trump ignored the request.
Trump fired Flynn just weeks after his new administration after being briefed on Flynn’s alleged lies to both the FBI and Vice President Mike Pence, who said on television that Flynn had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak.
Flynn was to be a key witness in the trial of his former business partner Bijan Rafiekian – better known as Kian – last year. Indeed, it was the expected testimony that caused Sullivan to postpone his December 2018 sentencing.
After Flynn’s change of lawyer, however, there was a heated argument between the new team and the prosecutors over Flynn’s account. Prosecutors abruptly dropped plans to call Flynn, saying he appeared to be withdrawing from approvals in his plea for filing false statements with the Justice Department about his work on Turkey.
After a trial jurors quickly convicted Kian – a California businessman and former agent of George W. Bush – plans to serve as an unregistered foreign agent in connection with the Flynn-led project against a Turkish dissident in the US, Fethullah Gulen.
However, Kian’s fate was reversed two months later when the judge oversaw the trial issued a rare decision that overturned the convictionsThere was no proof of his guilt. Despite Barr’s conclusion that Flynn’s prosecution was not warranted, the case against Kian continues as prosecutors appeal the judge’s decision dismissing the case.
Trump had long flirted with Flynn’s pardon. Indeed, in 2017, overtures by Trump’s personal attorney appeared in Mueller’s report, which cataloged possible obstruction of justice by the president. Although Trump routinely attacked other witnesses who provided Müller with harmful information, he never turned his anger on Flynn.