The day after pardoning a pair of Thanksgiving turkeys, President Donald Trump gave the same treatment to his former national security advisor Michael Flynn. Though the president had been telegraphing the pardon for months, the action still elicited strong albeit unsurprised reactions from attorneys, many of whom said this is a black eye for the DOJ and Flynn’s legal team.
“It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon. Congratulations to [General Flynn] and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!” Trump tweeted Wednesday afternoon.
The president’s tweet came almost three years after he publicly said that he had to fire Flynn for lying to Vice President Mike Pence and to the FBI.
“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!” Trump tweeted on Dec. 2, 2017.
Flynn twice pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators and then moved to withdraw his guilty plea after firing his legal team. He hired attorney Sidney Powell, whose work with the Trump campaign on post-election litigation lasted for just under one Scaramucci.
Powell portrayed her client as the victim of a political prosecution spearheaded by Obama-era officials and the “deep state.” Soon thereafter, Attorney General Bill Barr’s Justice Department controversially stepped in and moved to dismiss the charges against Flynn, calling the fateful FBI interview “unjustified.” This move led to a uniquely dramatic showdown with U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who refused to drop the charges without a more in-depth explanation from the DOJ.
While Flynn, his legal team, and many of the president’s supporters have similarly backed the notion that Flynn is innocent, per the Supreme Court, the acceptance of a pardon “carries an imputation of guilt; acceptance a confession of it” (though there is some important nuance to the subject).
The legal world had very strong reactions to the widely expected news, with several attorneys noting that the bungling of Flynn’s case by the DOJ and Powell was the real reason Trump needed to issue the pardon.
“Bill Barr is a bad lawyer, among other bad things. Burned a ton of personal and political capital, and burned [Federalist Society] judges beyond repair like Neomi Rao, just so Trump wouldn’t need to pardon Flynn. Trump may need to pardon Barr for bribery/extortion, too,” Fordham law professor and legal historian Jed Shugerman opined.
First Amendment attorney Jay Marshall Wolman similarly called the pardon “an indictment of Sidney Powell,” saying her representation of Flynn turned “a near certain dismissal into a pardon and the consequences thereof.”
National Security attorney and former member of the Ukraine whistleblower’s legal team Mark Zaid said the “one good thing about [the pardon] is that hopefully we’ll hear less from Sidney Powell.
Others noted that the protracted litigation with Judge Sullivan, which is rendered moot by the pardon, leaves many questions unanswered, including a judicial ruling on the meaning of “leave of court” in Rule 48(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
“Thoughts and prayers for Judge Sullivan’s law clerks, who have probably put a ton of effort into helping their judge write an opinion about DOJ’s awful motion to dismiss the charges against Flynn, who had already pleaded guilty,” wrote UNC law professor Carissa Byrne Hessick.
Still others, like CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elie Honig thought the move was “a wild abuse of power.”
There were many other reactions like this.
Trump earlier this year commuted the sentence of longtime confidant and Republican political operative Roger Stone. Stone had been convicted of lying to Congress in an effort to protect the president from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling and was days away from beginning his 40-month sentence before Trump swooped in.
The White House said the following of the Flynn pardon, much of it reminiscent of what was said after Stone’s clemency:
Today, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Grant of Clemency granting a Full Pardon to General Michael T. Flynn. The President has pardoned General Flynn because he should never have been prosecuted. An independent review of General Flynn’s case by the Department of Justice—conducted by respected career professionals—supports this conclusion. In fact, the Department of Justice has firmly concluded that the charges against General Flynn should be dropped. This Full Pardon achieves that objective, finally bringing to an end the relentless, partisan pursuit of an innocent man.
General Flynn should not require a pardon. He is an innocent man. Even the FBI agents who interviewed General Flynn did not think he was lying. Multiple investigations have produced evidence establishing that General Flynn was the victim of partisan government officials engaged in a coordinated attempt to subvert the election of 2016. These individuals sought to prevent Donald Trump from being elected to the Presidency, to block him from assuming that office upon his election, to remove him from office after his inauguration, and to undermine his Administration at every turn.
The prosecution of General Flynn is yet another reminder of something that has long been clear: After the 2016 election, individuals within the outgoing administration refused to accept the choice the American people had made at the ballot box and worked to undermine the peaceful transition of power. These efforts were enabled by a complicit media that willingly published falsehoods and hid inconvenient facts from public view, including with respect to General Flynn. They amounted to a brazen assault on our democracy and a direct attack on our fundamental political values.
While today’s action sets right an injustice against an innocent man and an American hero, it should also serve as a reminder to all of us that we must remain vigilant over those in whom we place our trust and confidence. The people who sit atop our intelligence and law enforcement agencies have tremendous power to affect the lives of their fellow citizens. The American people must always take care to scrutinize their actions, to hold them accountable, and to ensure that they use their immense power to uphold the rule of law rather than to harass, persecute, and jail their political opponents in pursuit of partisan political agendas.
Happy Thanksgiving to General Flynn and his family, and thank you all for your great service to our Nation!
The exact wording of the pardon remains to be seen.
[Image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]
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