President Trump has told his confidants that he plans to forgive his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI over his ties to Russia, two sources directly aware of the talks tell Axios.
Behind the scenes: According to sources directly aware of the discussions, Flynn will be part of a series of pardons that Trump will issue until now and until 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 investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government in the 2016 election.
- The retired lieutenant general is seen by many Trump supporters as a victim of political retaliation by the Obama administration.
- Flynn’s lawyers and members of the conservative media have accused the FBI of trapping him and mentioning his case as part of a broader Russia-probe-crediting campaign.
- Earlier this year, Trump commuted the punishment of Roger Stone, another Mueller investigator, who the president had accused of being unfairly targeted in a political witch hunt.
Background: Flynn’s legal problems began with the 2016 change of president when he called in a phone call on former Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak not to escalate in response to the Obama administration imposing sanctions on Russia for election intervention.
- Flynn then lied about not negotiating sanctions to Vice President Mike Pence, who reiterated this rejection to the media – creating alarm among Justice Department officials who feared the lies that made Flynn susceptible to Russian blackmail.
- In January 2017, Flynn was questioned without a lawyer by FBI agents as part of an intelligence investigation into Russian interference. He later admitted to lying to the FBI in an indictment with Special Adviser Robert Mueller.
Memories of the future: In January 2020, after a two-year delay from cooperating with the Mueller investigation, Flynn and his new legal team tried to drop his guilty charge, citing misconduct on the part of the prosecution.
- To review the case, a federal prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Bill Barr recommended that the charges be dismissed and that the FBI interview in which Flynn lied was “conducted without a legitimate investigative basis.”
- District Judge Emmet Sullivan did not immediately agree to dismiss the charge and asked outside legal experts to consider the unusual case.
- Flynn’s attorneys filed an urgent appeal to compel the judge to comply with the DOJ’s motion.
- This resulted in a protracted legal battle that ended in August with the Court of Appeal standing by Sullivan.
Not worth anything: Sidnn Powell, Flynn’s attorney, admitted at a September trial that he had recently spoken to Trump and asked him not to grant pardon. It is unclear what discussions Powell and the President have had since then.
Bottom line: Trump’s grace to Flynn takes the case out of the hands of the courts and a Biden-controlled Department of Justice.
What to watch: In his last weeks, Trump is approaching a time when previous presidents have granted clemency and have the opportunity to drive out the door to drive out his friends and supporters of all federal criminal convictions.