President Donald Trump said he issued a pardon Wednesday to former national security adviser Michael Flynn, ending a three-year legal odyssey for the retired Army general who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with a Russian ambassador prior to Trump’s inauguration.
The president’s action, coming in the final weeks of his administration, once again highlighted the long shadow cast by the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, which resulted in the prosecution of six former aides to the president.
Trump announced the news through his Twitter account.
“It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “Congratulations to @GenFlynn
and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!”
Earlier this year, Trump commuted the sentence of longtime confidant Roger Stone, a Republican operative convicted of lying to Congress to protect the president’s campaign from the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Trump’s intervention in the Stone case came just before the flamboyant political consultant was set to report to prison for a 40-month sentence handed down in February.
In apparent anticipation of the president’s announcement Wednesday, Flynn took to Twitter earlier in the day and made reference to a Bible verse suggesting that he would prevail in the case.
The pardon, meanwhile, prompted quick reaction from the general’s family who lauded the decision and immediate condemnation from Democrats and a senior member of Mueller’s investigative team.
Joseph Flynn, the general’s brother, credited defense attorney Sidney Powell who he described as a “warrior for justice.”
“God Bless you and Thank you all for supporting,” the brother tweeted.
Andrew Weissmann, one of the lead prosecutors on Mueller’s team, said that Trump’s action subverted the prosecution.
“Trump doing now what he could not convince FBI to do: not hold Flynn to account,” Weissmann tweeted.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Trump’s decision marked yet another “abuse” of his authority.
“Donald Trump has abused the pardon power to reward his friends and political allies, and protect those who lie to cover up for him,” Schiff said. “This time, Trump has once again abused the pardon power to reward Michael Flynn, who chose loyalty to Trump over loyalty to his country.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., called the pardon “one more stain on President Trump’s rapidly diminishing legacy.”
“President Trump dangled this pardon to encourage Flynn to backtrack on his pledge to cooperate with federal investigators—cooperation that might have exposed the president’s own wrongdoing,” Nadler said “And it worked.”
Trump has frequently spoken favorably of his former national security adviser and the pardon has been a possibility since Flynn entered his guilty plea in 2017.
The fact that Trump decided to act on Flynn’s case now will be read by some as de-facto recognition his tenure in the White House is coming to a close, even as he continues to fight the outcome of the election publicly. Presidents often grant controversial clemency before leaving office. President Barack Obama, for instance, waited until days before he left office to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who gave classified information to WikiLeaks.
Flynn, who served just more than three weeks as Trump’s top security adviser at the White House, pleaded guilty three years ago to lying about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
While awaiting sentencing, he sought to withdraw his plea by claiming that he was entrapped by federal investigators. That move was followed early this year by the Justice Department’s abrupt decision to abandon the prosecution, prompting a federal judge to challenge Justice’s decision.
Flynn was awaiting a ruling in the case by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan when Trump issued the pardon.
The Justice Department said Wednesday that officials were “not consulted” on the president’s decision, though were provided a “heads-up” prior to the announcement.
“We would have preferred to see if Judge Sullivan would act and for the matter to be resolved in court,” the department said in a statement. “We were confident in the likelihood of our success in the case. That being said, this is obviously an appropriate use of the president’s pardon power.”
Led by former Trump election lawyer Powell, Flynn’s defense team has repeatedly cast her client’s prosecution as a politically motivated conspiracy among Obama administration officials and has accused prosecutors of hiding evidence that would have exonerated her client.
Attorney General William Barr later argued that FBI interview during which Flynn made false statements was “unjustified,” drawing widespread criticism and protests from the Flynn prosecution team.
In his challenge to the Justice action, Sullivan appointed a third party, known as an amicus, who also examined whether Flynn had committed perjury for claiming to be innocent of a crime to which he had earlier pleaded guilty.
Retired federal judge John Gleeson, Sullivan’s appointed amicus, accused the Justice Department of “gross abuse of prosecutorial power” by pushing to drop the case against Flynn. Gleeson said the government’s motion to dismiss should be denied because its arguments “are not credible,” suggesting that prosecutors violated safeguards to prevent “dubious dismissals of criminal cases that would benefit powerful and well-connected defendants.”
‘Abuse of prosecutorial power’:Retired federal judge slams Justice Department in Flynn case
Gleeson’s appointment took the case to unprecedented heights, with Flynn’s defense team taking the fight to the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. to force Sullivan to dismiss the case. It pitted one branch of government against the other, raising questions about whether a judge can override prosecutors’ decisions to drop a criminal case.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in August that the case should not be immediately dismissed and that Sullivan has the authority to appoint a third party to challenge the Justice Department. Sullivan’s attorney had argued that he was simply doing what judges do: seeking to hear both sides before ruling on the motion to dismiss.
The ruling reversed a decision by a three-judge panel from the appeals court, which found Sullivan’s actions to be “unprecedented intrusions of individual liberty” and on the Justice Department’s prosecutorial powers. The appeals court’s ruling sent the case back to Sullivan.
During a heated hearing on the motion to dismiss in September, Powell, Flynn’s attorney said Sullivan should recuse himself.
In early October, Powell sought Sullivan’s recusal from the case, arguing that he has been “increasingly hostile” and “irreparably biased” against the former Army general. But the appeals court already rejected such an argument in its August ruling, saying opinions or statements judges make while presiding over a case don’t indicate bias.
Contributing: John Fritze and Nicholas Wu