Attorney General William Barr has ordered an outside prosecutor to revisit the criminal case against former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to reports from The New York Times and CNN.
Barr’s decision represents the latest Justice Department move to scrutinize cases or seek more lenient sentences for President Donald Trump’s allies. Senior DOJ officials earlier this week walked back federal prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation for longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone after Trump went on a public tirade.
In addition to directing a review of Flynn’s case, Barr also has several outside prosecutors looking into other politically sensitive cases and questioning prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington about their investigations, the Times reported.
Trump has repeatedly attacked legal cases against his associates and supporters, sometimes publicly declaring that charges against them should be dropped or groundlessly claiming that prosecutions were unjust. Trump’s attempts to undermine legal proceedings have led to concern from legal experts and Democratic politicians that he is eroding the rule of law and trying to use the Justice Department for his own political purposes.
The DOJ leadership’s intervention into Stone’s sentencing resulted in all four federal prosecutors in the trial withdrawing from the case. The prosecutors had recommended on Monday that Stone face seven to nine years in prison for being found guilty of witness tampering and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia in the 2016 election. Trump, in a Twitter post, quickly blasted the recommendation as unfair.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has asked the DOJ inspector general for an investigation into the department’s response to Trump’s comments. Schumer and other Democratic lawmakers, as well as the former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics and the American Bar Association, condemned the meddling in the sentencing.
Barr himself said in a Thursday interview with ABC News that Trump’s tweets on legal matters “make it impossible for me to do my job.” But he also insisted that it wasn’t because of Trump that he intervened in the Stone case, saying, “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody.”
Flynn initially pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to investigators about his communication with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak shortly before Trump was sworn into office. He agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election, hoping to avoid jail time. But Flynn withdrew his guilty plea last month after the DOJ recommended that he serve up to six months in prison for his crime, accusing him and his legal team of growing hostile and uncooperative.
Flynn hired a new legal team last year that shifted from cooperating with investigators to a hostile strategy that alleged Flynn was the victim of a bad faith investigation, inept former lawyers and the FBI tampering with his case. A federal judge issued a 92-page ruling in December rejecting Flynn’s accusations against the FBI and prosecutors, saying there was no factual basis for the allegations.
Conservative media and many Republican officials have championed Flynn, calling for Trump to pardon him. On Tuesday, Trump retweeted a pro-Trump Twitter account suggesting that he grant both Stone and Flynn full pardons.