A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed the criminal case against former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn but pointedly noted a pardon Flynn received from the president last month did not mean he was innocent.
The order from US District Judge Emmet Sullivan was expected in light of the pardon from President Donald Trump that wiped away Mr Flynn’s conviction for lying to the FBI during the Russia investigation.
Judge Sullivan acknowledged in his 43-page order the president’s broad pardon powers required dismissal and that the decision to pardon Mr Flynn was a political, rather than legal, one.
But he also stressed a pardon, by itself, did not mean Mr Flynn was innocent of a crime he had twice pleaded guilty to committing. He dismissed as “dubious to say the least” the Justice Department’s stated rationales for seeking to drop the case — a request that was still pending at the time the pardon was issued — and noted the president’s own personal interest in the matter.
“The history of the Constitution, its structure, and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the pardon power make clear that President Trump’s decision to pardon Mr Flynn is a political decision, not a legal one,” Judge Sullivan wrote.
“Because the law recognises the President’s political power to pardon, the appropriate course is to dismiss this case as moot.”
However, he added, “a pardon does not necessarily render ‘innocent’ a defendant of any alleged violation of the law. Indeed, the Supreme Court has recognised that the acceptance of a pardon implies a ‘confession’ of guilt”.
Mr Trump congratulated Mr Flynn on the judge’s decision, writing in a tweet: “He and his incredible family have suffered greatly!”
The order brings to an end the years-long saga involving Mr Flynn, who was ousted from his White House job just weeks into his tenure.
He twice admitted guilt during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation to lying to the FBI about conversations he had during the presidential transition period with the-then Russian ambassador to the United States.
Those talks involved sanctions the Obama administration had just imposed on Russia for election interference.
But the Justice Department last spring abruptly moved to dismiss the case, despite Mr Flynn’s own guilty plea, arguing there was insufficient basis for the FBI to have questioned him in the first place and that the statements he made during the interview were immaterial to the underlying investigation into whether the Trump campaign had coordinated with Russia.