Updated Nov 24, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Trump tells confidants he plans to pardon Michael Flynn

Michael Flynn

Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

President Trump has told confidants he plans to pardon his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts, two sources with direct knowledge of the discussions tell Axios.

Behind the scenes: Sources with direct knowledge of the discussions said Flynn will be part of a series of pardons that Trump issues between now and when he leaves office.

The big picture: Flynn's pardon would be the culmination of a four-year political and legal saga that began with the FBI's investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government in the 2016 election.

  • The retired lieutenant general is viewed by many Trump supporters as a victim of political retaliation by the Obama administration.
  • Flynn's lawyers and members of conservative media have accused the FBI of entrapping him and cited his case as part of a broader campaign to discredit the Russia probe.
  • Earlier this year, Trump commuted the sentence of Roger Stone, another associate charged in the Mueller investigation who the president complained had been unfairly targeted in a political witch hunt.

The backdrop: Flynn's legal troubles began during the 2016 presidential transition, when he urged former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in a phone call not to escalate in response to the Obama administration imposing sanctions on Russia for election interference.

  • Flynn then lied about not discussing sanctions to Vice President Mike Pence, who repeated that denial to the media — causing alarm among Justice Department officials who feared the lies made Flynn susceptible to Russian blackmail.
  • In January 2017, Flynn was interviewed without a lawyer present by FBI agents as part of a counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference. He later admitted to lying to the FBI as part of a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller.

Flash forward: In January 2020, after two years of sentencing delays due to his cooperation with the Mueller investigation, Flynn and his new legal team sought to withdraw his guilty plea, alleging prosecutorial misconduct.

  • A federal prosecutor appointed to review the case by Attorney General Bill Barr recommended that the charges be dropped, finding that the FBI interview in which Flynn lied was "conducted without any legitimate investigative basis."
  • District Judge Emmet Sullivan did not immediately agree to drop the charges, and asked for outside legal experts to weigh in on the unusual case.
  • Flynn's lawyers filed an emergency appeal to force the judge to comply with the DOJ motion.
  • That resulted in a protracted legal fight, which ended in August with an appeals court siding with Sullivan.

Worth noting: Flynn's lawyer Sidney Powell acknowledged at a hearing in September that she had spoken to Trump recently and had requested that he not issue a pardon. It's unclear what discussions Powell and the president have had since then.

The bottom line: Trump's pardon of Flynn would take the matter out of the hands of the courts and of a Biden-controlled Justice Department.

What to watch: In his final weeks in office, Trump is approaching the time when past presidents have granted pardons, and he has the potential to expunge his friends and supporters of all federal criminal convictions on his way out the door.

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