Washington — President Trump announced Wednesday he pardoned Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, granting a long-rumored reprieve to the retired Army lieutenant general as he prepares to leave office.
"It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon. Congratulations to @GenFlynn and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!" Mr. Trump tweeted.
The White House sent out a more formal statement of the announcement.
"The president has pardoned General Flynn because he should never have been prosecuted," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement. "An independent review of General Flynn's case by the Department of Justice—conducted by respected career professionals—supports this conclusion. In fact, the Department of Justice has firmly concluded that the charges against General Flynn should be dropped."
The Flynn family issued a lengthy statement celebrating the decision: "Today, the Flynn family is grateful to President Donald J. Trump for answering our prayers and the prayers of a nation by removing the heavy burden of injustice off the shoulders of our brother, Michael, with a full pardon of innocence. We thank President Trump for recognizing our brother's sacrifice in this battle for truth, our Constitution, our republic, and all that America stands for around the world — a true beacon of liberty."
The president has repeatedly defended Flynn as an "innocent man" who was unfairly targeted by rogue FBI officials during their investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which the president has long derided as a "hoax" that was designed to undermine his presidency.
An early supporter of Mr. Trump's bid for the White House in 2016, Flynn would go on to serve less than a month as his national security adviser before he was fired in February 2017 for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about contacts with Sergey Kislyak, who was then Russian ambassador to the U.S.
In the years since, Flynn has been at the center of a legal battle winding its way through the justice system. He admitted guilt in December 2017 —and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the Russia probe — and then again in December 2018 to making false statements to federal investigators about his contacts with Kislyak. But in January, Flynn asked to withdraw his guilty plea.
In a filing with the federal district court in Washington, Flynn's lawyers wrote that he was seeking to withdraw his plea because of the "government's bad faith, vindictiveness and breach of the plea agreement."
Then, in May, the Justice Department sought to dismiss its case against Flynn, kicking off an ongoing fight with U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who is presiding over the case. In their filing, federal prosecutors said the FBI's January 2017 interview with Flynn was "untethered to, and unjustified by" its counterintelligence investigation. The bureau, the Justice Department said, offered "frail and shifting justifications" for its ongoing investigation of Flynn.
But Sullivan declined to immediately dismiss Flynn's case and instead appointed a retired federal judge as a "friend of the court" to argue against the Justice Department. In response to Sullivan's move, Flynn asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to force the lower court judge to 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 asked the full court to rehear the dispute. In August, the full D.C. Circuit denied Flynn's request in an 8-2 ruling and sent the case back to the lower court to allow Sullivan to examine the Justice Department's request to toss out the case against Flynn.
Sullivan has not yet ruled on the Justice Department's motion to drop the charges.
The president's decision to pardon his former national security adviser was anticipated, as Mr. Trump has claimed Flynn is "being persecuted" and celebrated the Justice Department's efforts to dismiss the case against him. In March, the president said he was "strongly considering" pardoning Flynn.
Still, despite Mr. Trump's public comments, Sidney Powell, Flynn's attorney, explained in a September court hearing she asked the president not to pardon Flynn and provided him an update on the litigation.
Mr. Trump said last week Powell was joining his team of lawyers contesting the results of the presidential election, and she appeared alongside Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, and other Trump campaign advisers during a press conference at the Republican National Committee. But in an abrupt about-face, Giuliani and Trump campaign senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis said Sunday that Powell is "not a member of the Trump legal team" and is also "not a lawyer for the president in his personal capacity."
The president's action was met with swift condemnation from congressional Democrats, who accused Mr. Trump of abusing his pardon power to benefit his friends and political allies.
"There is no doubt that a president has broad power to confer pardons, but when they are deployed to insulate himself, his family, and his associates from criminal investigation, it is a corruption of the Framer's intent," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, said in a statement.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York said the pardon is "undeserved, unprincipled, and one more stain on President Trump's rapidly diminishing legacy."
Mr. Trump's pardon of Flynn is likely to be the first of several granted in the final weeks of his presidency, as outgoing presidents tend to issue grants of clemency before leaving office. It is also not the only reprieve the president has extended to close aides ensnared in Mueller's probe.
In July, Mr. Trump commuted the prison sentence of Republican political operative and informal adviser Roger Stone days before he was set to report to prison. Stone was convicted of seven federal charges in November 2019 and sentenced to 40 months behind bars in February.