President Donald Trump pardoned former national security adviser Michael Flynn on Wednesday, taking direct aim at a Russia investigation that he has long insisted was motivated by political bias.
“It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon," Trump tweeted. “Congratulations to GenFlynn and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!”
The action voids the criminal case against Flynn just as a federal judge was weighing, skeptically, whether to grant a Justice Department request to dismiss the prosecution despite Flynn's own guilty plea to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts. But it was later revealed that the FBI engaged in entrapment to gain that plea.
Flynn responded Thursday to Trump's full pardon posting to several social media platforms and also included the White House statement on the President's action.
"This is the WH statement of my “Pardon of Innocence” granted by the POTUS yesterday. I’ll release a personal statement later today. My family issued a statement late yesterday. We are very happy this chapter has ended and we look forward to the next chapter," he wrote.
"Happy Thanksgiving to America...you kept us strong. God bless you and have a very Happy Thanksgiving. 1 Chronicles 16:32–34," Flynn concluded.
The pardon is likely to energize supporters who have taken up the case as a cause celebre and rallied around the retired Army lieutenant general as the victim of what they assert is an unfair prosecution. Trump himself has repeatedly spoken warmly about Flynn, even though special counsel Robert Mueller's prosecutors once praised him as a model cooperator in their probe into ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.
The pardon is the final step in a case defined by twists and turns over the last year after the Justice Department abruptly move to dismiss the case, insisting that Flynn should have never been interviewed by the FBI in the first place, only to have U.S. District Justice Emmet Sullivan refuse the request and appoint a former judge to argue against the federal government's position.
The move spares Flynn the possibility of any prison sentence, which Sullivan could potentially have imposed had he ultimately decided to reject the Justice Department's dismissal request. That request was made in May after a review of the case by a federal prosecutor from St. Louis who had been specially appointed by Attorney General William Barr.
Flynn acknowledged lying during the FBI interview by saying he had not discussed with the then-Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, sanctions that had just been imposed on Russia for election interference by the outgoing Obama administration. During that conversation, Flynn urged Kislyak for Russia to be “even-keeled” in response to the punitive measures and assured him “we can have a better conversation” about relations between the two countries after Trump became president.
The conversation alarmed the FBI, which at the time was investigating whether the Trump campaign and Russia had coordinated to sway the election's outcome. In addition, White House officials were stating publicly that Flynn and Kislyak had not discussed sanctions.
But last May, the Justice Department abruptly reversed its position in the case. It said the FBI had no basis to interview Flynn about Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, and that any statements he may have made were not relevant to the FBI's broader counterintelligence probe. It cited internal FBI notes showing that agents had planned to close out their investigation into Flynn weeks earlier.
Flynn was ousted from his position in February 2017 after news broke that he had indeed discussed sanctions with Kislyak and that former Obama administration officials had warned the White House that he could be vulnerable to blackmail.
His lawyers accused prosecutors of withholding documents and evidence they said was favorable to the case and repeatedly noted that one of the two agents who interviewed Flynn was fired from the FBI for having sent derogatory text messages about Trump during the 2016 campaign.
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