Government watchdogs on Thursday called the U.S. Justice Department's decision to drop its case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn "an outrage," saying the move was made for the political benefit of President Donald Trump.
U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea wrote in a filing that the Justice Department was no longer convinced that Flynn should be prosecuted for lying to the FBI in 2017 about his discussions with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 election.
"Make no mistake: today is the day Barr flipped from fighting crime to openly facilitating it."
—Norm Eisen, Brookings Institution
"The government is not persuaded that the Jan. 24, 2017, interview was conducted with a legitimate investigative basis and therefore does not believe Mr. Flynn's statements were material even if untrue," Shea wrote.
Upon hearing of the DOJ's decision, Trump called Flynn a "warrior" and "an innocent man," despite the fact that Flynn twice pleaded guilty to the charges.
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, accused Attorney General William Barr of meddling "in prosecutions to help the president's friends and allies."
“Attorney General Barr has consistently acted for the personal and political benefit of President Trump, rather than fulfilling his duty as chief law enforcement officer of the United States," said Bookbinder. "Today's dismissal of the case against former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, previously affirmed by prosecutors, the presiding judge, and a guilty plea from Flynn himself, needs to be seen through that lens. We have to be deeply skeptical that this is anything other than a further capturing of our criminal justice system for the benefit of the president."
The case was dropped nearly three months after Barr hired an outside prosecutor to review the case against Barr, a move which triggered accusations of political interference.
Flynn's lawyers have accused DOJ investigators of misconduct during their probe of Flynn's FBI interview. Brandon Van Grack, the lead prosecutor on the case, was repeatedly targeted by Flynn's lawyers in court filings for what they called "incredible malfeasance."
In what the New York Times called "a possible sign of disagreement" with the department's decision, Van Grack withdrew suddenly from the case Thursday, hours before the DOJ dropped it.
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The dismissal of Flynn case represents "a dark day for the Justice Department," wrote Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
This is outrageous. There was clear evidence of obstruction and, on top of that, Flynn pled GUILTY to lying to federal investigators.
Fairness, independence and the rule of law are principles that have no meaning to Barr. This is a dark day for the Justice Department. https://t.co/bkPYjnGqTN
— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) May 7, 2020
Trump critics on social media accused Barr of working to represent the president's interests rather than those of the public.
Under Trump we have a Dept of Injustice that lets a confessed felon go free under a president who violates his oath of office to take care of his cronies via Attorney Specific Barr. @AP scoop: charges against Michael Flynn dropped.
— David Cay Johnston (@DavidCayJ) May 7, 2020
Make no mistake: today is the day Barr flipped from fighting crime to openly facilitating it. The Flynn dismissal is an outrage. He repeatedly admitted to the crime! https://t.co/nMp4Rj8b9O
— Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) May 7, 2020
According to the Times, the president's advisers last week urged him to hold off on issuing a pardon for Flynn and to instead allow to DOJ's case to be completed.
"The president doesn't need to issue pardons to his cronies when his attorney general appears willing to terminate their cases before justice can be served," said Bookbinder.