A federal judge formally dismissed the three-year prosecutorial case against Flynn on Tuesday, nearly two weeks after Trump issued the pardon, and stated in parting remarks that the act of clemency does not necessarily mean Flynn is innocent.
US District Judge Emmet Sullivan indicated in a 43-page opinion that Trump’s “full and unconditional pardon” was “extraordinarily broad,” as it not only touched on the charge of Flynn making false statements to the FBI, but also any charges that may stem from the case in the future.
“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,” Sullivan wrote. “Because the law recognizes the president’s political power to pardon, the appropriate course is to dismiss this case as moot. However, the pardon ‘does not, standing alone, render [Mr. Flynn] innocent of the alleged violation.’”
Flynn pleaded guilty twice to lying to the FBI during an interview about his past conversations with then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak prior to Trump’s January 2017 inauguration. However, after hiring a new legal team, Flynn opted to withdraw his plea, explaining that he had not remembered the discussions.
Sullivan expressed skepticism over that claim, highlighting that it seemed out of character for someone serving in the White House to simply forget an incident that occurred not long ago.
“With regard to Mr. Flynn’s alleged ‘faulty memory,’ Mr. Flynn is not just anyone; he was the national security adviser to the president, clearly in a position of trust, who claimed that he forgot, within less than a month, that he personally asked for a favor from the Russian ambassador that undermined the policy of the sitting president prior to the president-elect taking office,” the judge wrote.
Sullivan also noted that he felt troubled by the government’s “ever-evolving justifications” that often seemed irrelevant or contradicted prosecutors’ past statements.
The US Department of Justice moved to dismiss the case in late November after Trump issued Flynn’s pardon. At the time, the department indicated that the probe’s central argument - that the former national security adviser had lied to the FBI - was no longer considered material evidence.
The federal judge went on to state that the DoJ’s justification is a “newly minted definition of ‘materiality’ that is more circumscribed than the standard in this circuit.” He added, “However, that is not the law.”
“Where, as here, the government justifies its motion by ignoring applicable law to now question the strength of its case, substantial doubt arises about the government’s stated reasons for seeking dismissal,” he said.
Ultimately, Sullivan stated that while he was required to toss the case, he was not persuaded by many of the arguments, writing that they were “dubious to say the least.”