WASHINGTON – A lawyer for former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn told a judge Tuesday that she recently updated President Donald Trump on the case and asked him not to issue a pardon for her client.
The attorney, Sidney Powell, was reluctant to discuss her conversations with the president or the White House, saying she believed they were protected by executive privilege. But under persistent questioning from U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, she acknowledged having spoken to Trump within the past few weeks.
She did not elaborate on the request to not issue a pardon, but it presumably reflected a defense team desire to have Flynn's case dropped through the court system and have a judge concur with the Justice Department's assertion that the prosecution may be abandoned. Attorney General William Barr, who appointed a U.S. attorney from Missouri to investigate the handling of the case, moved in May to dismiss the case despite Flynn's guilty plea.
The revelation that Powell had recently spoken with Trump about the case that arose from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation underscored the politically charged nature of the prosecution. Flynn has emerged as a cause célèbre for Trump supporters, while critics of Barr's action — including former FBI and Justice Department officials — decry what they see as the politicization of law enforcement in the move to drop the case.
Current Justice Department officials rejected that characterization at the hearing, the first since a federal appeals court ruled that Sullivan did not have to immediately dismiss the prosecution just because the government wants him to. At issue before the judge was what role courts can play in scrutinizing prosecutors' request to abandon a case they had once brought.
Flynn has twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about a conversation with the Russian envoy during the presidential transition period in December 2016, when he urged the diplomat not to escalate tensions over sanctions that had just been imposed by the Obama administration for election interference. At the time, the FBI was investigating whether the Trump campaign had coordinated with Russia to tip the election in Trump's favor.
But the Justice Department moved in May to dismiss the case, saying there was insufficient basis to interview Flynn and that the questioning was not relevant to the FBI's broader counterintelligence investigation. Powell called the case a "hideous abuse of power."
Sullivan has so far resisted efforts to dismiss the prosecution and appointed a former federal judge to argue against the Justice Department's position. That ex-judge, John Gleeson, has accused the department of acting for political reasons when it moved to drop the case and of shifting its rationale over several months for doing so. "These reasons are so patently pretextual that the government feels the need to keep coming up with more of them," Gleeson said.