WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed the criminal case against former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn, two weeks after a pardon from the president effectively ended the case.
The order from U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan was largely procedural in light of the pardon from President Donald Trump, which wiped away Flynn’s conviction for lying to the FBI during the Russia investigation.
Sullivan made clear in a 43-page order that he was compelled to dismiss the case because of the pardon.
But he also stressed that a pardon by itself did not mean that Flynn was innocent. Flynn had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts during the presidential transition period with the Russian ambassador.
“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.”
Though the president may have the right to pardon Flynn, “a pardon does not necessarily render ‘innocent’ a defendant of any alleged violation of the law,” Sullivan wrote. “Indeed, the Supreme Court has recognized that the acceptance of a pardon implies a ‘confession’ of guilt.”
The order brings to an end the yearslong saga involving 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.
But the Justice Department last spring abruptly moved to dismiss the case, despite Flynn’s own guilty plea, arguing that there was no 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.
Sullivan had resisted the department’s request to dismiss the case and appointed a former federal judge from New York to argue against its motion. He defended his stance on Tuesday even as he dismissed the case, writing that “many of the government’s reasons for why it has decided to reverse course and seek dismissal in this case appear pretextual, particularly in view of the surrounding circumstances.”