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Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Justice Department moved Thursday to drop its prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty in the Mueller investigation in 2017 to lying to FBI agents about his conversations with the former Russian ambassador.

Why it matters: The politically explosive decision follows accusations by Flynn's attorneys and conservative media that prosecutors entrapped the former top Trump aide into lying. The case had become part of a broader campaign by the president and his allies to discredit the Russia investigation, which consumed the first two years of the Trump presidency.

The state of play: The Justice Department said in its filing, first reported by the AP, that it made its decision "after a considered review of all the facts and circumstances of this case, including newly discovered and disclosed information."

  • It concluded that the interview in which Flynn lied to the FBI "was untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn" and "conducted without any legitimate investigative basis."
  • In February, Attorney General Bill Barr appointed an outside prosecutor, U.S. attorney Jeff Jensen, to review the government's prosecution of Flynn for evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.
  • Jensen said in a statement: "Through the course of my review of General Flynn’s case, I concluded the proper and just course was to dismiss the case. I briefed Attorney General Barr on my findings, advised him on these conclusions, and he agreed."

The big picture: It's a major victory for Trump, who has railed against the Flynn prosecutors and teased a pardon for his former national security adviser.

  • Last week, Trump said he would consider bringing Flynn back into the administration, calling him "essentially exonerated" after the revelation of new FBI documents that were released as part of Flynn's effort to withdraw his guilty plea.

Between the lines: The motion to dismiss is signed by U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Timothy Shea, described by Fox News as Barr's "right-hand man" at the Justice Department.

  • Shea was appointed in January after Trump nominated former U.S. attorney for D.C. Jessie Liu — who oversaw the prosecutions of Flynn, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and other spinoffs from the Mueller investigation — to serve in a top Treasury Department role.
  • Trump abruptly withdrew Liu's nomination for the role in February after reviewing one of the "Deep State" memos compiled by conservative activists about allegedly disloyal government officials.

What they're saying:

  • Trump told reporters in the Oval Office: "I didn't know that was happening at this moment. I felt it was going to happen just by watching and seeing like everybody else does. He was an innocent man. He was targeted by the Obama administration. ... I hope a lot of people are going to pay a big price. They're dishonest, crooked people. They’re scum."
    • On Thursday evening, the Trump campaign wrote in a statement: "After a thorough, independent review, we now know that on Vice President Joe Biden’s watch, James Comey and Peter Strzok carried out a corrupt witch hunt ‘without any legitimate investigative basis’ against a decorated military veteran. Weaponizing the FBI and its surveillance powers to target General Flynn and others associated with President Trump will go down as one of the greatest abuses of power by an administration in American history."
  • House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) tweeted: "This is outrageous! Flynn PLEADED GUILTY to lying to investigators. The evidence against him is overwhelming. Now, a politicized DOJ is dropping the case. The decision to overrule the special counsel is without precedent and warrants an immediate explanation."
  • U.S. Attorney General William Barr told CBS News on Thursday: "People sometimes plead to things that turn out not to be crimes."

Read the filing.

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Why it matters: Cohen, who pleaded guilty to lying to Congress on Trump's behalf and is currently carrying out a three-year prison sentence in home confinement, was at the center of Trump's inner circle for over a decade. A judge ruled last month that the Justice Department's efforts to send him back to prison after he was released due to coronavirus concerns was retaliation for his book.

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