US President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he had granted a “full pardon” to his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
The move was long expected after Trump said in March he was “strongly considering” pardoning Flynn, who initially cooperated with former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election before contending that he’d been railroaded by prosecutors who were unfairly targeting the president.
That narrative was seized upon by the White House as proof that Trump was the victim of a “hoax” investigation.
“If the top leaders of the FBI can target a three-star general with three decades of service, they can target you,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said earlier this year.
Despite Flynn’s guilty pleas, the Justice Department moved back in May to dismiss the criminal charges, a move Democrats charged Attorney General William Barr was making to appease the president. The request was put on hold while the federal judge presiding over Flynn’s case reviewed the request.
Flynn, 61, was a top campaign surrogate for Trump in 2016 and led chants of “lock her up” about Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, in a speech at the Republican National Convention that year.
Trump named Flynn as his national security adviser after winning the election, despite being warned in a meeting by then-President Barack Obama that Flynn wasn’t suited to the job.
Obama had fired Flynn from his position as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014.
Flynn didn’t last long as Trump’s national security adviser — he resigned after less than four weeks into the job after it was revealed that he’d lied to Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials about conversations he’d had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
In one of the calls, Flynn asked Kislyak — whose communications were being monitored — if Russia would hold off on retaliatory sanctions against the US because Trump would reverse the Obama administration’s sanctions punishing Russia for election meddling.
Flynn denied he’d done so to Pence, who repeated Flynn’s denial publicly. That led then-FBI director James Comey to send agents to interview Flynn. Flynn lied to those agents as well — a federal crime that Mueller’s team used to get a guilty plea from Flynn.
After Flynn’s initial plea, Trump tweeted, “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI”.
“He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!” the president added.
Trump adviser Hope Hicks told Mueller’s investigators that the president thought Flynn had “bad judgment”.
Trump’s opinion of Flynn appeared to change after Flynn switched lawyers and complained he’d been “duped” into pleading guilty by investigators seeking to nail Trump.
“He is a great gentleman,” Trump said earlier this year.
The Justice Department also softened its stance on the case, with Barr ordering a US Attorney to review the case and DOJ officials intervening in January to change the government’s sentencing recommendation for Flynn from six months in jail to probation.
In May, the US Attorney that Barr appointed to review the case found Flynn should not have been questioned by the FBI in the first place and recommended the charges against him be dropped.
Barr — who has repeatedly criticized the Mueller investigation — agreed.
“A crime cannot be established here,” Barr told CBS, adding that “people sometimes plead to things that turn out not be crimes.”
Asked whether he was doing the president’s bidding, Barr said, “I’m doing the law’s bidding.”
In another unusual twist, Flynn’s lawyer Sidney Powell — who recently was working with the Trump campaign on its efforts to overturn the election results — acknowledged she’d had a direct conversation with the president about Flynn’s case.
“I provided the White House an update on the status of the litigation,” she said in court in September. “And I asked that the president not issue a pardon.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led the case against Trump during the Senate impeachment trial earlier this year, criticized the pardon in a statement later Wednesday.
“Trump has once again abused the pardon power to reward Michael Flynn, who chose loyalty to Trump over loyalty to his country,” he said, adding, “It’s no surprise that Trump would go out just as he came in — crooked to the end.