Conservative judges order the dismissal of Michael Flynn's case

The case against Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, has taken some twists and turns, but most observers didn't expect this.
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By Steve Benen

The case against former foreign agent Michael Flynn, who briefly served as Donald Trump's White House national security adviser in 2017, has taken some twists and turns, but most observers didn't expect this.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Wednesday ordered that a federal judge dismiss the case against President Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was charged in 2017 with lying to the FBI.... With no prosecutor now pushing the case, the decision is likely to mean the end of Flynn's criminal prosecution.

The 2-1 decision was written by Judge Neomi Rao, a conservative who was tapped for the powerful appellate bench by ... wait for it ... Donald Trump.

In case anyone needs a refresher, let's take a stroll down memory lane and review how we reached this point.

It was just a few years ago when federal prosecutors charged Flynn after he lied to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian government, lied to investigators about being a paid foreign agent, and acted illegally as an unregistered foreign agent while working on the Trump campaign.

Flynn soon after admitted he lied, twice pleaded guilty -- under oath and in open court -- and became a cooperating witness with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Flynn then changed his lawyers and decided he wasn't guilty after all. Soon after, Attorney General Bill Barr took an interest in the case, and in early May, the Justice Department announced it was dropping all of the charges. As difficult as it was to believe, Barr's DOJ concluded that it could not prove Flynn is guilty of the crimes to which he'd already pleaded guilty.

The judge overseeing the case, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, was unimpressed. In fact, he was so dissatisfied with what appeared to be an obvious political scheme that he appointed a retired federal judge to present arguments in opposition to the Justice Department's request to dismiss the charges against Flynn. Two weeks ago, that retired judge, John Gleeson, submitted a rather brutal filing, describing prosecutors' claims in the case as "preposterous" and accusing the Justice Department of exercising a "gross abuse of prosecutorial power."

But while those developments unfolded, prosecutors tried to circumvent Sullivan's courtroom altogether, asking an appeals court to force the district court judge to dismiss the case. That seemed unlikely to happen -- right up until this morning, when two judges, both chosen for the D.C. Circuit by Republican presidents, agreed to do exactly that.

It's likely that today's outcome will effectively end the case: Sullivan, left will limited options, will dismiss the charges; Flynn will remain free; and Donald Trump can wait to use his pardon power to assist one of the other controversial figures in his orbit.

That said, as an NBC News report added, Sullivan could appeal today's ruling and keep the process moving. What's more, as NBC News' Pete Williams noted on the air this morning, Flynn could conceivably still face charges at a later date under a different administration.