WASHINGTON – There's been a stunning reversal in one of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's signature cases. The Justice Department is dropping the tainted criminal case against retired Army General Michael Flynn – President Trump's first national security adviser.
After reviewing newly disclosed FBI emails and notes, prosecutors say agents should have never even interviewed Flynn in their Russia collusion investigation. They say his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were "entirely appropriate."
President Trump has long defended Flynn, pointing to him as a casualty of what he called the Mueller "witch hunt." The president said of Flynn on Thursday, "He was an innocent man, he is a great gentleman."
One of the newly released FBI documents from the investigation includes a handwritten note considering the purpose of interviewing Flynn.
A senior FBI official wrote, "What's our goal? Truth/admission or get him to lie so we can prosecute him or get him fired?"
Critics call that entrapment and say the FBI grossly abused its power.
Speaking from the Oval Office, Trump called efforts to go after Flynn "treason."
"He was targeted by the Obama administration and he was targeted in order to try and take down a president and what they've done is a disgrace and I hope a big price is gonna be paid," he said.
Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others, accuse Attorney General Bill Barr of doing the president's bidding. Barr says it's all about finding the truth.
"I'm prepared for that. I also think it's sad these partisan feelings are so strong that people have lost any sense of justice," Barr said in an interview.
In a column, liberal law professor Jonathan Turley says it's clear that the investigators were in the wrong. He writes, "I have certainly seen abuses in my career as a criminal defense attorney, but I have never seen a record as troubling as this one in prosecutors seeking the creation rather than the investigation of criminal conduct."
In the end, the AP reports that the following conclusions were reached by the Department of Justice:
- Flynn’s interview by the FBI was “untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn”
- The interview was “conducted without any legitimate investigative basis.”
President Trump says Flynn has now been exonerated. "General Flynn was under an enormous pressure and it was an artificial pressure because what they did to General Flynn was a disgrace, it was a total disgrace, it's shocking," Trump said. "What they tried to do to destroy him and to hurt this presidency was — there has never been anything like it. An absolute disgrace."
Flynn's exoneration will likely energize the president's supporters who now feel vindicated.