The U.S. Justice Department has asked a judge to drop the criminal charges against President Donald Trump’s former national-security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Flynn was among the first individuals swept up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s election campaign team in 2016.
In court documents filed on May 7, the Justice Department said it is asking a judge to drop the case against Flynn following a “review of all the facts and circumstances of this case.”
The judge must now rule on the motion.
For months, Flynn’s lawyers have been seeking to reverse a 2017 guilty plea on charges of lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak weeks before Trump entered the White House.
Flynn was fired in February 2017, having served as national-security adviser for less than a month, after it emerged he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.
In its filling, the Justice Department said it had concluded that Flynn’s January 2017 interview with the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador was “untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn.”
It also said that the interview was “conducted without any legitimate investigative basis.”
The Justice Department decision was swiftly welcomed by Trump and fellow Republicans, who have long rallied around Flynn as an innocent victim of the Russia probe.
“He was an innocent man,” Trump said of Flynn after the announcement, accusing officials from former President Barack Obama's administration of targeting the retired general.
"I hope a lot of people are going to pay a big price. They're scum," he added.
The Justice Department decision is likely to sharpen accusations from Trumps’ critics that Attorney General William Barr is politicizing the judiciary to please the president, who has repeatedly called the Russia investigation a “hoax.” Barr has repeatedly challenged the Russia probe.
The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler, called the Justice Department’s decision “outrageous” and vowed to investigate the matter.
“The evidence against General Flynn is overwhelming. He pleaded guilty to lying to investigators. And now a politicized and thoroughly corrupt Department of Justice is going to let the President’s crony simply walk away. Americans are right to be furious and worried about the continued erosion of our rule of law,” Nadler said in a statement.
The Justice Department decision comes as Flynn’s attorneys have leveled a series of accusations about the FBI’s actions, including that their client was improperly trapped into lying. As part of the attorneys' offensive against the case they asked to withdraw Flynn’s guilty plea.
On April 30, Pence said he was “more inclined” to believe that Flynn had unintentionally misled him about contacts with the Russian ambassador after Flynn’s lawyers released new documents suggesting the FBI investigation could have been mishandled.
As part of a Justice Department process launched earlier this year to examine the handling of the case, Flynn’s attorneys received emails and notes from the FBI investigation.
One note from a senior FBI official related to internal deliberations about the aim of the Flynn interview read: “What’s our goal? Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”
Other documents revealed that the FBI intended to drop its investigation into Flynn in the weeks before the January 2017 interview.
However, later that month FBI officials became more concerned by Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador as the White House insisted that Flynn had never discussed sanctions with Kislyak.
In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about two conversations with Kislyak in December 2016 while he was still a private citizen.
One encouraged Russia not to retaliate against the United States for sanctions imposed by the Obama administration over election interference.
The other conversation was directed by a “very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team” to discuss derailing a UN Security Council Resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Flynn also admitted to lying about his lobbying activity on behalf of the Turkish government.