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U.S. Attorney General William Barr delivers remarks at the Department of Justice Headquarters on Jan. 22, 2020 in Washington.Michael A. McCoy / AP

Adding fuel to fire, AG Barr orders closer look into Flynn case

There were already concerns about Bill Barr giving special treatment to cases involving Donald Trump's associates. Today, those concerns grew much worse.


Former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned in disgrace less than a month into Donald Trump's term, was charged with some rather serious misdeeds. Federal prosecutors have accused the retired Army lieutenant general of lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian government, lying to investigators about being a paid agent of a foreign government, and acting illegally as an unregistered foreign agent during the time that he was the top national security adviser on the Trump campaign.

Flynn initially pleaded guilty to everything. A conservative federal judge said in December 2018 that he could barely hide his "disgust" with the former presidential aide, telling him, "Arguably, you sold your country out" by working as an unregistered foreign agent. The judge even briefly broached the subject of "treason."

In time, however, far-right conspiracy theories started presenting Flynn as some kind of victim of federal law enforcement run amok. Flynn ended up taking all of this seriously, seeking to change his guilty plea, picking up some attorneys who make frequent Fox News appearances, and even making odd arguments in legal filings.

It's against this backdrop that NBC News had this striking report this afternoon.

The Justice Department recently opened an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the FBI's interview of Michael Flynn while he was serving as President Donald Trump's national security adviser, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.

According to the report, Attorney General Bill Barr has asked a U.S. Attorney, Jeffrey Jensen, to examine the FBI interview in which Flynn was caught lying.

This follows related recent reporting in which the prosecutors in Flynn's case have faced pressure to seek a more lenient sentence for the former White House adviser.

As bad as the trees look, let no one miss the forest: the nation's attorney general, seen as an unprincipled ally of the White House, stands accused of misusing federal law enforcement in cases related to the president and his pals. Aware of the controversy, Barr nevertheless assigned a federal prosecutor to take a closer look at a case involving another one of Trump's associates.

A system in which the Justice Department maintains two sets of standards -- one for cases involving Trump and this friends, one for everyone else -- is an untenable one in a country that values the rule of law.

A New York Times report added, "The intervention has contributed a turbulent period for the prosecutors' office that oversees the seat of the federal government and some of the most politically sensitive investigations and cases -- some involving President Trump's friends and allies, and some his critics and adversaries."

That "turbulence" appears unlikely to end anytime soon. Those who saw Barr's ABC News interview yesterday as some kind of signal of independence between the attorney general and the president clearly misread the situation.