In an extraordinary departure from the Justice Department’s typical handling of criminal cases, the Donald Trump-appointed leadership of the Justice Department on Thursday dropped charges against Michael Flynn, the former White House national security adviser who previously pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.
In a court filing, Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea said that even if Flynn lied about his contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States ahead of Trump’s 2017 inauguration, that Flynn’s lies were irrelevant to the FBI’s counterintelligence probe into his communications with Russia.
Shea wrote that the FBI’s interview with Flynn was “untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation” into Flynn, and that the DOJ “is not persuaded that the January 24, 2017 interview was conducted with a legitimate investigative basis and therefore does not believe Mr. Flynn’s statements were material even if untrue.”
Shea wrote that the FBI seemed “eager” to interview Flynn “irrespective of any underlying investigation” and that the investigation “seems to have been undertaken only to elicit those very false statements and thereby criminalize Mr. Flynn.”
The move came after an extended media campaign by Flynn’s attorney Sidney Powell, who has railed against Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Flynn, who previously told a federal judge that he had in fact lied to the FBI, had tried to withdraw his guilty plea in recent months.
So why would Flynn, a man of considerable means, plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit? “In the Government’s assessment,” Shea wrote “he did so without full awareness of the circumstances of the newly discovered, disclosed, or declassified information as to the FBI’s investigation of him.”
The news came shortly after Brandon Van Grack, a former prosecutor on the Mueller team whom the Justice Department last year named to lead a unit focused on foreign lobbying, stepped down from the Flynn case. The Associated Press first reported the news on Thursday.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.