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Michael Flynn’s defense claims FBI notes show agents tried to entrap the former national security adviser

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn leaves the federal courthouse in Washington on June 24, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

New documents turned over by the Justice Department show FBI officials debated whether and when to warn Michael T. Flynn that he could face criminal charges as they prepared for a pivotal January 2017 interview in which the former national security adviser later admitted to lying about his Russia contacts.

The documents show law enforcement seeming to contemplate in advance that Flynn would lie to them — with an unidentified person even musing in handwritten notes whether their purpose was to induce a lie, before ultimately concluding they should “protect our institution by not playing games.”

“What is our goal? Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” an unidentified person wrote in notes apparently taken before Flynn was interviewed on Jan. 24, 2017, four days after Trump took office.

The new documents were turned over to Flynn’s defense April 24 and filed publicly Thursday after Attorney General William P. Barr in January ordered a review of how the former three-star Army general’s case was handled by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.

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Flynn, 61, was fired from the White House in February 2017. He pleaded guilty that December and awaits sentencing for lying in the interview about discussing potential relief from U.S. sanctions with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition, and about his lobbying work for the government of Turkey.

Flynn last year fired his initial defense team, however, and his new lawyers this winter moved to withdraw his guilty plea arguing that he was entrapped, given ineffective assistance by his initial counsel and is actually innocent.

The new attorneys, Sidney Powell and Jesse Binnall, in a court filing last week called the materials “stunning” evidence that showed Flynn was “set up and framed by corrupt agents at the top of the FBI.”

The partially redacted documents consist of two email exchanges between FBI officials, including former Flynn case agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team in July 2017 — and ultimately fired from the FBI — after texts between the pair, who were having an affair, surfaced that were critical of Trump. Page separately left the team and later the bureau.

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A Jan. 24 email from Strzok to recipients including the FBI general counsel at the time appears to prepare an official identified as “DD” — an abbreviation Strzok often used to refer to former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe — for calling Flynn to arrange the interview and answering questions Flynn might have.

Strzok suggests that McCabe be ready if Flynn asked if he were under criminal investigation or began volunteering information, and to consider having an agent present in that event.

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In a brief email the evening before, Page asked Strzok and others to clarify whether FBI policy required agents to inform Flynn that lying to investigators was a crime before they began, or after they believed he made a false statement.

A final disclosure includes one page of handwritten notes, dated Jan. 24, that appear to be the writer’s talking points for an internal FBI meeting, advocating that if Flynn lies in the interview, agents should confront him with a redacted piece of evidence so that he will come clean.

“I don’t see how getting someone to admit their wrongdoing is going easy on him,” the notes say, adding, “If we’re seen as playing games, WH will be furious.”

It is not clear what evidence the writer was referring to. In the interview, the FBI did not show Flynn a transcript of his conversations with Kislyak. Flynn told investigators he assumed they knew what was said on the call.

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The Justice Department is expected to formally respond to the allegations by May 11, and has not so far retreated from Flynn’s prosecution. Investigators commonly prepare for interviews, including how to handle situations in which the targets lie.

Reaction from Flynn’s supporters, including President Trump and one of his sons, was swift and outraged.

Within minutes, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, “Not only should general Flynn’s charges be dropped immediately but the treasonous actors who set him up should be in jail!!!

On the same social media platform, President Trump shared a brief video clip posted by Flynn panning to an American flag waving in the wind.

Flynn’s brother, Joseph J. Flynn, wrote, “THUGS!!!!!!!... They did this to a WAR HERO!!! What the hell will they do to YOU!!!! #ExonerateGeneralFlynn.”

An attorney for Strzok and a representative for McCabe declined to comment. A representative for Page did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the emails.

Further disclosures from the Barr-ordered review of the case are expected. Barr in January directed the U.S. attorney for eastern Missouri, Jeffrey B. Jensen, to review and “assist” federal prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in the District, who began handling Flynn’s case after Mueller’s office closed in March 2019.

Prosecutors said they have turned over to Flynn an unspecified number of documents “obtained and analyzed” by Jensen’s office since March, including reports related to the investigation and FBI communications and notes.

Rosalind S. Helderman and Carol Leonnig contributed to this report.

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