Chuck Ross, DCNF
- Michael Flynn’s decision in January to withdraw his guilty plea in the special counsel’s investigation set into motion a series of disclosures that cast new light on the FBI investigation of the retired Army general.
- President Donald Trump pardoned Flynn on Wednesday, asserting that the FBI should have never investigated his former national security adviser.
- In the lead up to the pardon, the FBI and Justice Department turned over documents that showed that the lead FBI agent on the Flynn probe questioned the legitimacy of the investigation.
- James Comey told Congress that he was uncertain whether Flynn lied in a White House interview that eventually led to his plea deal.
Michael Flynn’s decision earlier this year to withdraw from a plea deal he struck with the special counsel’s office set into motion a series of unprecedented FBI and Justice Department disclosures that has culminated in a presidential pardon for the retired Army general.
President Donald Trump issued a “full pardon” for Flynn on Wednesday. The White House issued a statement asserting that Flynn “should never have been prosecuted.”
Flynn pleaded guilty on Dec. 1, 2017 to making false statements to the FBI during an interview at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017, regarding a phone call he had a month earlier with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
After a series of delays in his case, Flynn made moves earlier this year to withdraw from his plea deal, saying in a court filing on Jan. 29 that did not intentionally lie to the FBI.
Flynn said he pleaded guilty due to pressure he faced from the special counsel’s office to cooperate in the Russia probe.
Following Flynn’s about-face, Attorney General William Barr ordered a review of Flynn’s case.
He appointed Jeffrey Jensen, the U.S. attorney in St. Louis, to review the Justice Department and FBI’s handling of Flynn-related documents. On May 7, the Justice Department filed a motion to withdraw charges against Flynn, citing evidence that prosecutors had withheld from Flynn’s lawyers.
In a series of court filings, Jensen produced previously withheld documents that detailed FBI and DOJ deliberations about the Flynn case. The documents indicated that FBI officials were not certain whether Flynn intentionally lied to investigators about his contacts with Kislyak.
Other documents showed FBI officials strategizing how to approach the White House interview with Flynn that yielded his guilty plea.
Flynn’s lawyers and defenders have said the evidence shows he did not lie to the FBI. His critics have denied that the belated disclosures have exonerated him, or that he deserves a pardon.
Here are the most significant disclosures in Flynn’s case.
FBI memo closing counterintelligence investigation of Flynn
On Jan. 4, 2017, FBI special agent William Barnett, the lead investigator on a counterintelligence investigation of Flynn, issued a memorandum suggesting that the counterintelligence investigation against Flynn be closed.
The FBI had investigated Flynn and three other Trump advisers since August 2016 on suspicions that they had conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election.
Barnett wrote that a review of intelligence community databases and sources “did not yield any information” to suggest that Flynn was a secret Russian agent.
The investigation against Flynn remained open, though it shifted to a criminal investigation.
Peter Strzok, who served as deputy chief of FBI counterintelligence, intervened to keep the Flynn investigation going after the bureau obtained a transcript of Flynn’s calls days earlier with Kislyak.
Other FBI documents show that agents began discussing whether Flynn’s calls violated the Logan Act, an obscure law that prohibits U.S. citizens from negotiating with foreign governments on behalf of the U.S.
Strzok would conduct the White House interview with Flynn at the center of his case.
Official questioned goal of Flynn interview
FBI officials huddled before the White House interview with Flynn to discuss the goals of the meeting, according to a memo discovered by Jensen.
Bill Priestap, the chief of FBI counterintelligence, wrote in notes just before the interview with Flynn that he wondered whether the FBI’s goal with the White House interview was to “get [Flynn] to lie,” either in order to get him fired or prosecuted.
“What is our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” wrote Priestap.
Flynn’s lawyer, Sidney Powell, wrote in a court filing that disclosed the notes that they showed that the FBI “pre-planned a deliberate attack” on Flynn.
McCabe notes of his phone call with Flynn
Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director, took notes of his phone call with Flynn setting up the fateful White House interview. The documents were turned over to Flynn’s lawyers in December 2018, well before Jensen began his review of the case.
McCabe wrote in the notes that he suggested to Flynn that lawyers not be present during the White House interview.
“I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [General Flynn] and the agents only,” McCabe wrote.
Flynn’s defenders have seized on the disclosure as evidence that the FBI targeted Flynn and hoped to get him to lie.
In a May 8, 2020 interview, Barr, the attorney general, accused the Comey-McCabe FBI of setting a “perjury trap” for Flynn.
James Comey was unsure whether Flynn lied
The investigation into whether Flynn lied to the FBI was never an open-and-shut case.
On March 2, 2017, then-FBI Director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee that he and others at the FBI were not certain whether Flynn lied during his White House interview.
“Do you believe that Mr. Flynn lied?” Comey was asked in the interview.
“I don’t know,” Comey replied. “I think there is an argument to be made that he lied. It is a close one.”
Lead Flynn investigator cast doubt on counterintelligence probe
Perhaps the most significant blow to the FBI’s investigation of Flynn came from Barnett, the special agent who led probe of the retired general.
Barnett told Jensen, the U.S. attorney, in a Sept. 17 interview that he “did not understand the point of the investigation.”
Barnett also said that the special counsel’s team had a “get Trump” attitude.
In private FBI messages turned over the Jensen, Barnett wrote to a colleague on Nov. 8, 2016, that he was “so glad” that FBI brass had ordered the closure of the investigation into Flynn.
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