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U.S. Justice Department moves to drop case against Trump ex-adviser Flynn

U.S. Justice Department moves to drop case against Trump ex-adviser Flynn
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday abruptly asked a judge to drop criminal charges against President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn following mounting pressure from Trump and his political allies on the right.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general who served as an adviser to Trump during the 2016 campaign, had been seeking to withdraw his 2017 guilty plea in which he admitted to lying to the FBI about interactions with Russia’s ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak in the weeks before Trump took office.

The Justice Department, which is headed by Trump political loyalist Attorney General William Barr, filed a motion to dismiss the charges with U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, who has presided over the case. Sullivan now must rule on the motion.

Trump said he was “very happy” for Flynn after the Justice Department’s move.

“Yes, he was a great warrior, and he still is a great warrior. Now in my book he’s an even greater warrior,” Trump said.

Flynn was one of several former Trump aides to plead guilty or be convicted at trial in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that detailed Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election to boost Trump’s candidacy as well as numerous contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

The Justice Department said in its court filing it is no longer persuaded that the FBI’s Jan. 24, 2017 interview with Flynn that led to the charges was conducted with a “legitimate investigative basis” and does not think Flynn’s statements were “material even if untrue.”

The sudden about-face is likely to raise new questions among Trump’s critics about the Justice Department’s interventions under Barr into high-profile criminal cases involving the president’s political allies.

Shortly before the motion was filed, career Justice Department prosecutor Brandon Van Grack withdrew from the case and others he was handling.

Earlier this year, career prosecutors handling the case against Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone quit in protest, after Barr moved to scale back the department’s sentencing recommendation against Stone.

The decision to seek to drop the Flynn charges comes less than three months after Barr named Jeffrey Jensen, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, to review the Justice Department’s handling of the case. In a statement, Jensen said he had “concluded the proper and just course was to dismiss the case” and he had briefed Barr on these conclusions.

Trump fired Flynn as national security adviser after only 24 days on the job after it emerged that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence and the FBI about his dealings Kislyak.

Flynn was supposed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of his plea deal. But he later switched lawyers and tactics, arguing that prosecutors in the case had tricked him into lying about his December 2016 conversations with Kislyak.

The Justice Department had repeatedly denied allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, and Sullivan rejected all of Flynn’s claims in December.

The mounting pressure from Trump allies to drop the Flynn case intensified last week after partially redacted documents turned over to Flynn’s defense and then made public in the court record showed more about the FBI’s thinking ahead of its interview with Flynn that prompted the criminal charges.

In them, an unidentified FBI agent wrote: “What is our goal? Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”

Flynn’s allies have argued that those documents bolstered his argument that the FBI was out to get him.

The Justice Department, in its filing, seemed to agree that the new documents undercut the criminal case against Flynn.

“The government has concluded that the interview of Mr. Flynn was untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn - a no longer justifiably predicated investigation,” the Justice Department wrote in its filing on Thursday.

Federal prosecutors had asked the judge in January to sentence Flynn to up to six months in prison, arguing in a court filing that “the defendant has not learned his lesson. He has behaved as though the law does not apply to him, and as if there are no consequences for his actions.”

His sentencing has been deferred several times.

Flynn also served as head of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency but he was forced out in 2014 in part due to his management style and opinions on how to combat Islamist militancy.

He joined the Trump 2016 election campaign and at the Republican National Convention that year he led supporters in chants of “Lock her up,” in reference to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Other former Trump aides were convicted of federal crimes following the Russia inquiry. Stone was sentenced on Feb. 20 to three years and four months in prison for obstruction of justice, witness tampering and lying to lawmakers investigating the Russian election interference.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Will Dunham
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