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Trump pardons former national security adviser Michael Flynn

U.S. President Donald Trump pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn Wednesday, ending a years-long prosecution related to the Russia investigation that saw Flynn twice plead guilty to lying to the FBI and then reverse himself before the Department of Justice stepped in to dismiss his case.

The pardon, coming in the waning days of the Trump administration, takes direct aim at the investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russian interference in the 2016 election that the president has long insisted was motivated by political bias.

“It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon,” Trump tweeted. “Congratulations to @GenFlynn and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!”

Flynn is the second Trump associate convicted in the Russia probe to be granted clemency by the president.

Trump commuted the sentence of longtime confidant Roger Stone just days before he was to report to prison. It is part of a broader effort to undo the results of an investigation that for years has shadowed his administration and yielded criminal charges against a half dozen associates.

The action voids the criminal case against Flynn just as a federal judge was weighing, skeptically, whether to grant a U.S. Justice Department request to dismiss the prosecution.

A senior Justice Department official said the department was not consulted on the pardon and learned Wednesday of the plan. But the official said the president has the legal power to pardon Flynn. The official was not authorized to discuss internal discussions publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Likely to energize Trump supporters

The move, coming as Trump winds down his four-year term, is likely to energize supporters who have taken up the case as a cause célèbre and rallied around the retired army lieutenant general, whom they see as the victim of what they assert is an unfair prosecution.

Trump himself has repeatedly spoken warmly about Flynn even though special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors once praised him as a model co-operator in their probe into ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.

In a statement, Flynn’s family thanked Trump “for answering our prayers and the prayers of a nation” by issuing the pardon.

Democrats lambasted the pardon, calling it undeserved and unprincipled.

The pardon of Flynn is “an act of grave corruption and a brazen abuse of power,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

“The president’s enablers have constructed an elaborate narrative in which Trump and Flynn are victims and the Constitution is subject to the whims of the president,” House judiciary committee chair Jerry Nadler said in a statement. “Americans soundly rejected this nonsense when they voted out President Trump.”

House intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff said the pardon wasn’t a surprise but was nonetheless crooked.

“Flynn pled guilty to those lies, twice. A pardon by Trump does not erase that truth, no matter how Trump and his allies try to suggest otherwise,” he said.

Final step

The pardon is the final step in a case defined by twists and turns over the last year after the Justice Department abruptly moved to dismiss it, insisting that Flynn should have never been interviewed by the FBI in the first place, only to have U.S. District Justice Emmet Sullivan refuse the request and appoint a former judge to argue against the government’s position.

In the months since, a three-judge panel’s decision ordering Sullivan to dismiss the case was overturned by the full appeals court, which sent the matter back to Sullivan.

At a hearing in September, Flynn lawyer Sidney Powell told the judge that she had discussed the Flynn case with Trump but also said she did not want a pardon — presumably because she wanted him to be vindicated in the courts.

WATCH | Former acting attorney general Sally Yates explains to a Senate committee in 2018 why Flynn could have been blackmailed by the Russians:

Former acting attorney general Sally Yates told a Senate subcommittee hearing that Russia knew of Michael Flynn’s conduct and that Trump’s former adviser could be blackmailed 0:36

Avoids prison 

Powell emerged separately in recent weeks as a public face of Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of his election loss to president-elect Joe Biden, but the Trump legal team ultimately distanced itself from her after she advanced a series of uncorroborated conspiracy claims.

The pardon spares Flynn the possibility of any prison sentence, which Sullivan could potentially have imposed had he ultimately decided to reject the Justice Department’s dismissal request. That request was made in May after a review of the case by a federal prosecutor from St. Louis who had been specially appointed by Attorney General William Barr.

Flynn acknowledged lying during the FBI interview by saying he had not discussed with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador at the time, sanctions that had just been imposed on Russia for election interference by the outgoing Obama administration.

During that conversation, Flynn urged Russia to be “even-keeled” in response to the punitive measures, and assured Kislyak “we can have a better conversation” about relations between the two countries after Trump became president.

Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the U.S. at the time, arrives at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on July 17, 2017. Flynn admitted he lied to the FBI when he said he had not discussed sanctions imposed on Russia with Kislyak. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

The conversation alarmed the FBI, which at the time was investigating whether the Trump campaign and Russia had co-ordinated to sway the election’s outcome. In addition, White House officials were stating publicly that Flynn and Kislyak had not discussed sanctions.

But last May, the Justice Department abruptly reversed its position in the case. It said the FBI had no basis to interview Flynn about Kislyak and that any statements he may have made were not relevant to the FBI’s broader counterintelligence probe. It cited internal FBI notes showing that agents had planned to close out their investigation into Flynn weeks earlier.

Co-operated extensively

Flynn was ousted from his position in February 2017 after news broke that he had, indeed, discussed sanctions with Kislyak and that former Obama administration officials had warned the White House that he could be vulnerable to blackmail.

Flynn was among the first of the president’s aides to admit guilt in Mueller’s investigation and co-operated extensively for months. He provided such extensive co-operation that prosecutors did not recommend any prison time and suggested that they would be fine with probation.

But on the morning he was to have been sentenced, after a stern rebuke about his behaviour from Sullivan, Flynn asked for the hearing to be cut short so that he could continue co-operating and earn credit toward a more lenient sentence.

After that, though, he hired new attorneys — including Powell, a conservative commentator and outspoken critic of Mueller’s investigation — who took a far more confrontational stance to the government.

The lawyers accused prosecutors of withholding documents and evidence they said was favourable to the case and repeatedly noted that one of the two agents who interviewed Flynn was fired from the FBI for having sent derogatory text messages about Trump during the 2016 campaign.

U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller in May 2019. Flynn admitted guilt in Mueller’s investigation and co-operated extensively for months. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

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