Former national security adviser Michael Flynn exits a vehicle as he arrives for his sentencing hearing at a court in Washington, the US, December 18 2018. Picture: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn exits a vehicle as he arrives for his sentencing hearing at a court in Washington, the US, December 18 2018. Picture: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST

Washington — US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he had pardoned Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser, who had pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his conversation with the Russian ambassador to the US.

Trump made the announcement on Twitter.

The pardon brings to an apparent close a long and bitterly fought criminal case that became a cause célèbre for Trump and his conservative allies, who portrayed the prosecution of Flynn as evidence of a broad conspiracy against the president.

But Democrats quickly denounced the move. Representative Adam Schiff of California, chair of the House intelligence committee, said “there is no doubt that a president has broad power to confer pardons, but when they are deployed to insulate himself, his family, and his associates from criminal investigation, it is a corruption of the Framers’ intent”.

“It’s no surprise that Trump would go out just as he came in — crooked to the end.”

The narrative has swerved from Flynn’s initial guilty pleas during the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, to attorney-general William Barr’s surprise decision in May to drop the charges and US judge Emmet Sullivan’s refusal to approve the request.

In September, Flynn’s lawyer, Sidney Powell, told Sullivan that she had personally asked Trump not to pardon her client while they fought to get the case dismissed.

Powell, who in November took part in Trump’s legal campaign to challenge president-elect Joe Biden’s victory, testified at a hearing as Sullivan weighed whether the justice department’s request to drop the case was a politically corrupt decision.

At that hearing, her meeting with Trump was seized on by John Gleeson, a former federal judge appointed by Sullivan to argue against dismissal as a so-called friend of court. Gleeson said Trump’s “consulting with defense counsel” appeared to be part of his effort to undermine the case.

Gleeson, who has called the department’s dismissal request “corrupt and politically motivated”, said at the hearing the president wants to let Flynn “off the hook” without having to use his pardon power.

But Kenneth Kohl, a department lawyer, said the government decided to abandon the case after concluding that the FBI agents who conducted the interview with Flynn didn’t believe he’d lied, and that another agent came to the conclusion the case was brought improperly “to get Trump”, Kohl said at the hearing.

Flynn, a former army general who had been a director of the defense intelligence agency, rose to prominence during the 2016 Trump campaign as an ardent and combative supporter of the first-time candidate.

Trump, who welcomed former generals into his cabinet, rewarded Flynn with the post of national security adviser. He resigned just weeks into the new administration amid evidence that he had misled officials, including Vice-President Mike Pence, about the content of his calls with the then Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak during the transition.

Flynn’s fall occurred as the Russia investigation, much to the dismay of the White House, gathered strength, eventually leading to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, whose inquiry cast a shadow over much of Trump’s time in office.

After pleading guilty and agreeing to co-operate with the government, Flynn sought to change his plea as prosecutors said he wasn’t being truthful with them.

Trump, who had asked for Flynn’s resignation, praised his former aide and denounced the case as a political assault with him as the ultimate target.


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