The move is a stunning reversal for one of the signature cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The Justice Department on Thursday said it is dropping the criminal case against Donald Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, abandoning a prosecution that became a rallying cry for Trump and his supporters in attacking the FBI's Russia investigation.
The move is a stunning reversal for one of the signature cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. It comes even though prosecutors for the last three years had maintained that Flynn had lied to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in a January 2017 interview. Flynn himself admitted as much and became a key cooperator for Mueller as he investigated ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.
In court documents being filed Thursday, the Justice Department said it is dropping the case "after a considered review of all the facts and circumstances of this case, including newly discovered and disclosed information." The documents were obtained by the Associated Press.
The Justice Department said it had concluded that Flynn's interview by the FBI was "untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn" and that the interview on January 24, 2017, was "conducted without any legitimate investigative basis."
The U.S. attorney reviewing the Flynn case, Jeff Jensen, recommended the move to Attorney General William Barr last week and formalized the recommendation in a document this week.
"Through the course of my review of General Flynn's case, I concluded the proper and just course was to dismiss the case," Jensen said in a statement. "I briefed Attorney General Barr on my findings, advised him on these conclusions, and he agreed."
The decision is certain to be embraced by Trump, who has relentlessly tweeted about the case and last week pronounced Flynn "exonerated," and energize supporters who have taken up the retired Army lieutenant general as something of a cause celebre. But it may also add to Democratic concerns that Attorney General William Barr is excessively loyal to Trump, and could be a distraction for a Justice Department that for months has sought to focus on crimes arising from the coronavirus.
The Justice Department's action comes amid an internal review into the handling of the case and an aggressive effort by Flynn's lawyers to challenge the basis for the prosecution. The lawyers cited newly disclosed FBI emails and notes last week to allege that Flynn was entrapped into lying when agents interviewed him at the White House days after Trump's inauguration. Though none of the documents appeared to undercut the central allegation that Flynn had lied to the FBI, Trump last week pronounced him "exonerated
The decision is the latest dramatic turn in a years-old case full of twists and turns. In recent months, his attorneys have leveled a series of allegations about the FBI's actions and asked to withdraw his guilty plea. A judge has rejected most of the claims and not ruled on others, including the bid to revoke the plea.
The decision comes as Barr has increasingly challenged the Russia investigation, saying in a television interview last month that it was started "without any basis." In February, he overruled a decision by prosecutors in the Roger Stone case in favor of a more lenient recommended sentence for the longtime Trump friend.