WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr has assigned an outside prosecutor to scrutinize the criminal case against President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to people familiar with the matter.
The review is highly unusual and could trigger more accusations of political interference by top Justice Department officials into the work of career prosecutors.
Barr has also installed a handful of outside prosecutors to broadly review the handling of other politically sensitive national-security cases in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, the people said. The team includes at least one prosecutor from the office of the U.S. attorney in St. Louis, Jeff Jensen, who is handling the Flynn matter, as well as prosecutors from the office of the deputy attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen.
Over the past two weeks, the outside prosecutors have begun grilling line prosecutors in the Washington office about various cases — some public, some not — including investigative steps, prosecutorial actions and why they took them, according to the people. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive internal deliberations.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
The intervention has contributed to a turbulent period for the prosecutors’ office that oversees the seat of the federal government and some of the most politically sensitive investigations and cases — some involving Trump’s friends and allies, and some his critics and adversaries.
This week, four line prosecutors quit the case against Roger Stone, Trump’s close adviser, after Barr overruled their recommendation that a judge sentence him within sentencing guidelines. Barr’s intervention was preceded by criticism of the original sentencing recommendation by Trump and praised by him afterward, and Barr on Thursday publicly asked Trump to stop commenting about the Justice Department.
The moves amounted to imposing a secondary layer of monitoring and control over what career prosecutors have been doing in the Washington office. They are part of a broader turmoil in that office coinciding with Barr’s recent installation of a close aide, Timothy Shea, as interim U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, after Barr maneuvered out the Senate-confirmed former top prosecutor in the office, Jessie Liu.
Flynn’s case was first brought by the special counsel’s office, who agreed to a plea deal on a charge of lying to investigators in exchange for his cooperation, before the Washington office took over the case when the special counsel shut down after concluding its investigation into Russia’s election interference.
Flynn’s case has been bogged down in recent months by his lawyers’ unfounded claims of prosecutorial misconduct; a judge has already rejected those accusations. Flynn then asked to withdraw his guilty plea, which he first entered in December 2017. His case has become a cause célèbre for Trump’s supporters.
On Tuesday, Barr and Rosen overruled career prosecutors’ recommendation that a judge sentence Stone to seven to nine years in prison after a jury found him guilty of witness intimidation and several false statements charges, in accordance with standard sentencing guidelines, and insisted on a lower recommendation.
After Trump complained that the sentence for Stone — who had refused to cooperate with prosecutors by telling the special counsel, Robert Mueller, what he knew about Trump and WikiLeaks — all four career prosecutors quit the case.
Barr on Thursday gave an interview in which he publicly called on Trump to stop commenting on the Justice Department, saying it was making it impossible for him to do his job. But Trump said Friday he had every right to tell the Justice Department what to do in criminal cases.
Trump had nominated Liu for a top Treasury Department position in December, and she initially told her colleagues that she would stay on until her confirmation. But Barr then asked her to leave early, and she was given a temporary role at the Treasury Department, clearing the way for him to install Shea in her place.