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Judge formally ends Michael Flynn's legal fight

Critics condemn Trump for pardoning Flynn
Critics condemn Trump for pardoning Flynn 08:38

A federal judge ordered the criminal case against Michael Flynn be dismissed as "moot" in light of President Trump's pardon last month, putting an end to the former national security adviser's three-year legal battle. 

Judge Emmet Sullivan brought a formal conclusion to the case in a 43-page opinion, in which he called the presidential pardon "extraordinarily broad" while maintaining that clemency does not prove Flynn's innocence.

"The history of the Constitution, its structure, and the Supreme Court's interpretation of the pardon power make clear that President Trump's decision to pardon Mr. Flynn is a political decision, not a legal one," Sullivan explained. "Because the law recognizes the President's political power to pardon, the appropriate course is to dismiss this case as moot. However, the pardon 'does not, standing alone, render [Mr. Flynn] innocent of the alleged violation'."

In December 2017 Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the U.S., and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election. 

Flynn pleaded guilty once again in December 2018 before Judge Sullivan, but later, in January this year, Flynn asked to withdraw his guilty plea because of the "government's bad faith, vindictiveness and breach of the plea agreement." 

However, in May, the Justice Department moved to dismiss its case against Flynn, kicking off a nearly seven-month legal fight with Sullivan. Federal prosecutors justified their decision by arguing that the FBI's January 2017 interview with Flynn was "untethered to, and unjustified by" its counterintelligence investigation, and further claimed that the FBI offered "frail and shifting justifications" for its investigation into Flynn. 

In his opinion Tuesday, Sullivan indicated that he was skeptical of the government's position that it could no longer prove the materiality or falsity of Flynn's false statements, which he characterized as "dubious to say the least." In one instance, the government chalked up Flynn's "faulty memory" as a potential excuse for his statements to the FBI. 

"Dismissal is, of course, the correct result," Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Tuesday.

"Mr. Flynn is not just anyone," Sullivan explained. "He was the National Security Advisor to the President, clearly in a position of trust, who claimed that he forgot, within less than a month, that he personally asked for a favor from the Russian Ambassador that undermined the policy of the sitting President prior to the President-Elect taking office."

But in lieu of an immediate dismissal of the government's prosecution in May, Sullivan instead appointed a retired federal judge as a "friend of the court" to argue against the Justice Department. In response, Flynn's legal team asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to force the lower court judge to intervene and dismiss the case.

In June, a divided three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit ruled in Flynn's favor and ordered Sullivan to drop the criminal case against him, but Sullivan appealed its decision to the full court to rehear the dispute, and in August it denied Flynn's request, allowing Sullivan to further review the request to dismiss.

Now President Trump's "full and unconditional pardon" shielding Flynn from "any and all possible offenses" arising from the special counsel's investigation has put an end to his legal battle. It is that intervention that Judge Sullivan cited in his opinion, noting "the extent of [the President's] interest in this case," pointing to Mr. Trump's public scrutiny of the prosecution as a factor that may have influenced the government's decision to withdraw the charges. 

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