Now, in a stunning blow to impartial justice, Attorney General William P. Barr is proposing to clear Mr. Flynn, who served as national security adviser at the beginning of President Trump’s term. It is the latest and perhaps most disturbing action Mr. Barr has taken to overrule the professionals of the Justice Department in a manner pleasing to his boss.
U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen said he made the call, then consulted Mr. Barr, who agreed. Mr. Jensen should not have been in a position to make that call. He had that position because Mr. Barr tapped him to “assist” other Justice Department prosecutors on a case of particular interest to Mr. Trump. Yet those other prosecutors needed no help determining Mr. Flynn’s guilt.
According to Mr. Flynn’s admissions, he advised Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak shortly before Mr. Trump’s 2017 inauguration that Moscow should resist responding to U.S. sanctions on Russia, which the Obama administration had imposed in response to the Kremlin’s 2016 election interference. Mr. Flynn also admitted that he misled Vice President Pence about what he had discussed with the Russian ambassador. In a plea deal, Mr. Flynn disclosed that he had knowingly lied to FBI agents who were investigating Mr. Flynn’s Russia ties.
Mr. Flynn subsequently replaced his defense team, renounced his plea and concocted conspiracy theories to excuse his behavior. He gained no traction with the judge who has had to deal with his flight from responsibility. Yet Mr. Trump became a vocal ally, and the Justice Department on Thursday took his side, which could permit Mr. Flynn to escape punishment. The episode recalls the Justice Department reversal in February, when a sentencing recommendation for Trump ally Roger Stone was eased under Mr. Barr’s supervision, over the objections of Justice prosecutors. It follows one of Mr. Barr’s first actions, which was to present a misleading description of Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russia’s interference before the public was able to read it.
The department justified its latest reversal on Mr. Flynn by arguing that the FBI lacked sufficient reason to interview him in the first place, having previously turned up no “derogatory information” on him. But the FBI was at the time assessing Russia’s election interference and any continuing national security threat; Mr. Flynn’s previous activities had qualified him for a counterintelligence probe; and investigators had new information at hand: Mr. Flynn’s chat with Mr. Kislyak about coordinating a response to the Obama sanctions and Mr. Flynn’s false statements to administration officials on what he and the Russian ambassador discussed, which potentially opened him up to Kremlin blackmail. Even if the FBI’s rationale had been weaker, that would be no excuse for Mr. Flynn’s decision to lie to counterintelligence investigators about his contacts with a foreign adversary.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who is presiding over Mr. Flynn’s case, is not obliged to accept this U-turn. With a guilty plea in hand and more than enough evidence to impose a sentence, he can do so despite Mr. Barr’s efforts to rescue another Trump ally.
“I want to make sure that we restore confidence in the system,” Mr. Barr said in a Thursday interview with CBS News. By again ordering leniency for one of the president’s cronies, over the heads of line prosecutors and in conflict with the facts, he has done the opposite.