In Flynn case, Barr's Justice Dept accused of 'gross abuse' of power

The case against former foreign agent Michael Flynn has taken some twists and turns, but today's development was a doozy.
Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-INVESTIGATION-RUSSIA-FLYNN
Gen. Michael Flynn, former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, leaves Federal Court in Washington in 2017.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

The federal 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 this one's a doozy.

The retired judge appointed to act as a friend of the court in the Michael Flynn case strongly urged the judge Wednesday not to let the Justice Department abandon the prosecution. In a scorching 83-page submission, John Gleeson said the government's move to drop the case was "riddled with inexplicable and elementary errors of law and fact," which were contradicted by the positions it has taken in other false statement cases and by its own previous court filings about Flynn's conduct as well as his decisions to plead guilty twice.

Gleeson was unreserved in his criticisms, describing prosecutors' claims as "preposterous" and accusing the Justice Department of exercising a "gross abuse of prosecutorial power."

If anyone needs a refresher, let's review how we arrived at 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. Attorney General Bill Barr took an interest in the case of the president's former aide, 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.

Of particular interest, as NBC News' report noted, Sullivan expected Gleeson to consider whether Flynn could be held in criminal contempt for perjury.

Today, Gleeson -- himself a former federal prosecutor -- filed his brief in the case, which was rather brutal in its condemnation of the Justice Department's handling of the matter.

"The facts surrounding the filing of the Government's motion constitute clear evidence of gross prosecutorial abuse," the retired judge wrote. "They reveal an unconvincing effort to disguise as legitimate a decision to dismiss that is based solely on the fact that Flynn is a political ally of President Trump."

That's a rather serious accusation, which effectively everyone paying attention already knows to be true.

As for the next steps, Gleeson did not recommend that Sullivan find Flynn in contempt of court for perjury. Instead, the former judge encouraged Sullivan to consider discounting the Justice Department's request and simply moving forward with sentencing Flynn.

Sullivan has scheduled a July hearing on whether to grant or reject prosecutors' request, but in the interim, the Justice Department is pressing an appeals court -- featuring a politically conservative panel -- to make the case go away much sooner.

Watch this space.