Judge says Trump pardon doesn't make Michael Flynn innocent of lying to FBI, but he tosses case

Key Points
  • The criminal case against President Donald Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn was formally dismissed Tuesday, two weeks after Trump pardoned him.
  • The dismissal of the case by Judge Emmet Sullivan in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., where Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents, was expected because of his pardon by the president.
  • The retired Army lieutenant general was fired by Trump in February 2017 after lying to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. in the weeks before Trump was inaugurated.
Michael Flynn, former U.S. national security adviser, exits federal court in Washington, D.C., on Monday, June 24, 2019.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Michael Flynn's pardon by President Donald Trump does not mean the former national security advisor is "innocent" of the crime of lying to FBI agents, a federal judge wrote Tuesday as he formally dismissed the criminal case against Flynn.

Judge Emmet Sullivan also cast a judicially cold eye on the fact that Trump's pardon covered not only Flynn's twice-admitted felony of lying to agents but also to other uncharged conduct, which included Flynn lying to the U.S. Justice Department in lobbying documents.

Sullivan's dismissal of the case in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., was effectively mandated by the fact that Trump pardoned Flynn the day before Thanksgiving.

But the judge, who has dueled for months with the Justice Department and Flynn's lawyer Sidney Powell over their efforts to get the case dismissed, used a 43-page opinion to underscore Flynn's criminal conduct, the strength of the case against him, and the highly unusual effort by the Justice Department to drop the prosecution of a person who pleaded guilty.

"Because the law recognizes the President's political power to pardon, the appropriate course is to dismiss this case as moot," Sullivan wrote.

"However, the pardon 'does not, standing alone, render [Mr. Flynn] innocent of the alleged violation'" of making false statements, Sullivan wrote, quoting a federal appeals court decision in another case.

And, the judge wrote, "Here, the scope of the pardon is extraordinarily broad — it applies not only to the false statements offense to which Mr. Flynn twice pled guilty in this case, but also purports to apply to 'any and all possible offenses' that he might be charged with in the future in relation to this case and Special Counsel [Robert] Mueller's investigation."

The Justice Department, which originally prosecuted the case, since earlier this year had sought to void Flynn's guilty plea, claiming there were insufficient grounds to investigate him in the first place.

Sullivan for months had resisted granting the Justice Department's request.

The termination of the case came after nearly four years of controversy over Flynn, who briefly served as Trump's first national security advisor. He had been a rallying figure for critics of then-special counsel Mueller's investigation of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

The retired Army lieutenant general was fired by Trump in February 2017 after lying to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations with Russia's ambassador to the United States in the weeks before Trump was inaugurated.

Flynn later pleaded guilty in December of that year to lying to FBI agents when he told them that he and the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, had not discussed sanctions imposed on Russia by the outgoing Obama administration in retaliation for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election.

Flynn also lied to agents about his request to Kislyak that Russia vote against or delay a resolution by Egypt in the United Nations Security Council related to Israeli settlements.

As part of his guilty plea, Flynn cooperated with the probe by Mueller into Russian meddling in that election and the question of whether the Trump campaign had coordinated with Russians in that effort. At an aborted sentencing hearing in December 2018, he restated his guilty plea before Sullivan.

Flynn, whose sentencing postponement continued during his cooperation with Mueller's investigation, last year began efforts to have the case against him tossed out.

The Justice Department initially resisted those efforts, but ended up endorsing them, in what became another well-known example of Attorney General William Barr taking steps to benefit an ally of Trump who was accused of a crime.

Barr earlier this year undercut the stiff sentencing recommendation by trial prosecutors for Republican operative Roger Stone, who later avoided going to prison for lying to Congress after Trump commuted his sentence.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in late November, "President Trump's pardon of Michael Flynn is as rotten as it is unsurprising."

"As a reminder: Michael Flynn pleaded guilty twice to lying to federal investigators in an attempt to cover up his secret communications with the Russian government. His crimes risked our national security and undermined our system of justice," Blumenthal said.

But White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany had said, "The President has pardoned General Flynn because he should never have been prosecuted."

"An independent review of General Flynn's case by the Department of Justice — conducted by respected career professionals — supports this conclusion," McEnany said.

"In fact, the Department of Justice has firmly concluded that the charges against General Flynn should be dropped. This Full Pardon achieves that objective, finally bringing to an end the relentless, partisan pursuit of an innocent man."

President Trump pardons Michael Flynn, top Dem Adam Schiff claims Trump is abusing his power
President Trump pardons Michael Flynn, top Dem Adam Schiff claims Trump is abusing his power