The Justice Department moved Thursday to drop charges against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts during the presidential transition.The unraveling of Flynn’s guilty plea marked a stunning reversal by the Justice Department in its case against the retired three-star Army general, who was convicted in the course of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The stated reason is false and irrelevant. The Justice Department claims that the investigation into the now-former national security adviser was about to be dropped until the FBI interviewed Flynn, after discussing the possibility he might lie. There is nothing untoward about this. It in no way should vitiate Flynn’s guilty plea. Former House impeachment counsel Norman Eisen tells me, “Barr’s latest perversion of [the] DOJ is shocking. Flynn has repeatedly admitted his guilt in U.S. District Court.” Eisen adds, “The four pages of FBI emails and notes revealed last week changed nothing. They did not affect his culpability or undermine [the] DOJ’s and the FBI’s work, as I explained at the time.”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who served as the lead impeachment manager, tweeted his reaction:
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who also served as an impeachment manager, excoriated Barr in a written statement: “The decision to drop the charges against General Flynn is outrageous. The evidence against General Flynn is overwhelming,” Nadler stated. “He pleaded guilty to lying to investigators. And now a politicized and thoroughly corrupt Department of Justice is going to let the President’s crony simply walk away. Americans are right to be furious and worried about the continued erosion of our rule of law.” Nadler called for a new inspector general’s investigation.
This is one more instance — along with the misleading presentation of the Mueller report, reversing prosecutors’ sentencing recommendations for Trump confidant Roger Stone and refusing to investigate Trump’s extortion of Ukraine for political gain — in which Barr has acted contrary to his oath of office and to his professional obligations as a lawyer. He continues to serve President Trump’s interests (and, by extension, those of Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump bizarrely discussed the Russia investigation in a phone call last year) and not the fair administration of justice.
“What Barr has done on Trump’s behalf with respect to Flynn, who entered a fully justified guilty plea that the district court duly approved, is blatantly and purely partisan,” constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe tells me. “I know of no similarly corrupt action in the Justice Department’s entire history. This latest outrage, which closes the circle that began with Trump’s attempt to get [then-FBI Director] James Comey to go easy on Flynn and with Trump’s firing of Comey for his failure to do so, just goes to show that a president with a sufficiently unprincipled and compliant Attorney General needn’t even bother to abuse his pardon power to bail out his loyal henchmen.” Tribe further observes, “By sparing Trump the need to invoke his pardon power and at least having to be held politically accountable, Barr gave the president cover. Hopefully the voters will see through the ruse come November.”
I recommended long ago that Barr be impeached for his unprecedented assaults on the rule of law. The latest stunt confirms my fear that, left to his own devices, Barr would continue to undermine the impartial administration of justice and the integrity of the Justice Department. “Close observers already knew that Barr was willing to sell out justice from his excusing Trump’s obstruction after it was revealed by the Mueller report — but this is even more brazen,” Eisen says.
Despite the pandemic, the House Judiciary Committee should revisit impeachment. In any event, as I also raised during the Stone fiasco, it is beyond time that state bar authorities investigate the attorney general and his enablers at the Justice Department. The next administration will need conduct a thorough investigation into Barr’s conduct, fire anyone who aided and abetted Barr, set up new guidelines to prevent the politicization of justice and report the whole lot of them to the state bar associations. The damage to the rule of law is incalculable.
Joyce White Vance, a former federal prosecutor, sums it up: “This is a bad day for the rule of law. There are two kinds of justice in America now: the kind that is available for the president’s friends and the kind that’s available to the rest of us.”