WASHINGTON – A U.S. judge on Tuesday put on hold the Justice Department’s move to drop charges against Michael Flynn, saying he expects independent groups and legal experts to argue against the bid to exonerate President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser of lying to the FBI.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District of Columbia said he expects individuals and organizations will seek to intervene in the politically charged case.
Sullivan’s order came after the government took the highly irregular step last Thursday of reversing its stance on Flynn’s charges and embracing Flynn’s move to dismiss his own guilty pleas.
Flynn was convicted in course of special counsel Robert Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Flynn had initially repeated that he was guilty of lying, that no one had coerced him to admit his guilt and that he had no intention of taking back that plea. Flynn also said he took responsibility for wrongdoing that also culminated in his firing by Trump for misleading Vice President Mike Pence, White House aides and the public.
After Mueller’s investigation into 2016 campaign interference closed last year, Flynn changed defense teams, began attacking prosecutors, and gained Trump’s support despite initially cooperating against the White House by claiming he was entrapped in a partisan FBI and Justice Department conspiracy.
In January, Attorney General William Barr tapped Jeff Jensen, the U.S. attorney in St. Louis, to review how the case had been handled. Jensen said publicly last week that he recommended it be dropped, asserting that newly analyzed FBI reports and communications showed the bureau had no valid basis to question Flynn, and so any lies he told were not relevant to a criminal probe.
The Justice Department’s attempts to dismiss the case last week prompted fresh accusations from law enforcement officials and Democrats that the criminal justice system was caving to political pressure from the Trump administration.
Sullivan said he will “at the appropriate time,” set a schedule for outside parties to argue against the Justice Department’s claims.
Sullivan’s invitation could set the stage for an adversarial proceedings in which one or more attorneys argue against the Justice Department. It would also permit, if the judge chooses, to require sides to produce evidence and revisit the case for and against Flynn.
In an evidentiary hearing, Sullivan could call witnesses, such as Flynn, his investigators or even prosecutors, to obtain more facts about how the case was handled and why Flynn and agents took the steps they did.
Sullivan has not hesitated to personally question Flynn in court before, as he did during an abortive 2018 sentencing hearing, when he rejected a defense motion supported by the government for probation.