WASHINGTON (AP) – A divided federal appeals court on Wednesday ordered the closure of the criminal case against former President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and the efforts of a judge to review the extraordinary decision by the Justice Department to to revoke the persecution, undone.
The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said in a 2-1 ruling that the Justice Department’s decision to terminate the case against Flynn settles the case, even though Flynn pleaded guilty as part of the investigation by Robert Mueller, Russia’s special counsel, is going to lie to the FBI.
The ruling, a major victory for both Flynn and the Justice Department, appears to end what could have been a lengthy legal battle over the groundwork for the government’s rejection of the case. The question arose as Democrats whether the Justice Department has become too politicized and Attorney General William Barr is too quick to side with the President, mainly because he vocally criticizes and even reverses some of the results of the Russian investigation.
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Wednesday about another unusual move by Barr to ignore his own accusers and ask for less jail time for another Trump employee, Roger Stone. Barr has accepted an invitation to testify before the panel on July 28, a spokeswoman said Wednesday, and he will almost certainly be pressured over the Flynn case.
Trump tweeted moments after the statement was made public: “Great! The appeal confirms the request from the judiciary to withdraw the criminal case against General Michael Flynn. ‘
Later, at the White House, Trump told reporters he was happy for Flynn.
“He was treated horribly by a group of very bad people,” Trump said. “Whatever happened to General Flynn should never happen in our country.”
Flynn called on conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, saying the statement was a good development for him and his family. But he also called it “a big boost of confidence for the American people in our legal system, because that’s what it really comes down to – is whether our legal system will gain the trust of the American people or not.”
U.S. district judge Emmet Sullivan had declined to dismiss the case immediately, instead evaluating the department’s request at his own request. He appointed a retired federal judge to argue against the Justice Department’s position and to investigate whether Flynn could be criminalized for perjury. He held a hearing on July 16 to formally hear the request for rejection.
Judge Neomi Rao, a nominee for Trump, accompanied by Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, wrote that Sullivan had pushed his limits by guessing the Justice Department’s decision again. This case, she said, “is not the unusual case where a more in-depth investigation is warranted.”
“For starters,” she added, “Flynn agrees with the government’s motion to dismiss, and there is no accusation that the motion is an expression of prosecution by the prosecution. In addition, the government’s motion includes an extensive discussion of newly discovered evidence that casts doubt on Flynn’s debt. “
She called Sullivan’s examination of the government’s request an “irregular and seeking” move that could compel the government to publicly justify its decision in this matter and other matters.
“Our precedents expressly leave the prosecuting decisions to the executive and believe that a court should only investigate a rejection motion on the basis of extraordinary evidence of intimidation of the accused or crime such as bribery – neither of which is visible in the process – report for the district court, “she wrote.
Some critics of the dismissal of the Justice Department urged the entire appeals court to hear the case and overturn the three-judge panel’s decision, as it has jurisdiction.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Robert Wilkins said it was the first time that his court had forced a lower court judge to decide in some way without giving the judge a “reasonable opportunity to make his own judgment.”
“It is a great irony that this court, by holding that the court has exceeded its jurisdiction, so severely exceeds its own,” wrote Wilkins, an appointee of former President Barack Obama.
Flynn was the only White House official indicted in Mueller’s investigation into the links between the Trump campaign and Russia.
He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI days after the president’s inauguration in January 2017 of talks he had with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition period in which the two men discussed the sanctions Russia had imposed on the Obama administration for election interference.
The Justice Department decided to dismiss the case in May as part of a wider effort by Barr to review some of the decisions he made during the Russia investigation, which he increasingly discredited.
In her motion, the department stated that Flynn’s calls to the Russian ambassador were perfectly appropriate and not relevant to the underlying counter-intelligence investigation. The department also noted that the FBI had prepared weeks before the interview to close the investigation into Flynn after no evidence was found that he had committed crimes.
But retired judge John Gleeson, appointed by Sullivan, called the Justice Department’s request a “gross abuse” of the prosecution and accused the government of creating a pretext for the benefit of an ally of the president.
Henderson, the other majority judge, had raised skeptical questions to flynn attorneys and the Justice Department earlier this month, giving her the prospect of deciding to leave the case in Sullivan’s hands.
But in the end she decided to dismiss the case.
Associated Press writers Mark Sherman, Colleen Long and Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.
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