WASHINGTON – A lawyer for former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn told a judge Tuesday that she recently updated President Donald Trump on the case and asked him not to issue a pardon for her client.
The attorney, Sidney Powell, was initially reluctant to discuss her conversations with the president or the White House, saying she believed they were protected by executive privilege. But under persistent questioning from U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, she acknowledged having spoken to the president within the last few weeks to update him and to request that he not pardon Flynn.
She did not elaborate on the request, but it presumably reflected the defense team's desire to secure a legal, rather than political, victory for their client and to have the judge concur with the Justice Department's assertion that the prosecution should be abandoned. Attorney General William Barr, who appointed a U.S. attorney from Missouri to investigate the handling of the case, moved in May to dismiss the case despite Flynn's own guilty plea in the Russia investigation.
That request is pending, with Sullivan not immediately ruling one way or the other on Tuesday.
Powell's acknowledgement that she had recently spoken with the president about the case that arose from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe underscored the politically charged nature of the prosecution. Flynn has emerged as something of a cause célèbre for Trump supporters, while critics of Barr’s action — including former FBI and Justice Department officials — have decried what they see as the politicization of law enforcement in the move to drop the case.
Current Justice Department officials vigorously rejected that characterization at Tuesday's hearing, the first since a federal appeals court ruled last month that Sullivan did not have to immediately dismiss the prosecution just because the government wants him to. That decision returned the case to Sullivan for additional proceedings.
At issue before the judge Tuesday was what role courts may play in scrutinizing prosecutors' request to abandon a case they had once brought, and to what extent a judge can second-guess the motives behind such an effort.
Flynn has twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about a conversation with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition period in December 2016, when he encouraged the diplomat not to escalate tensions over sanctions that had just been imposed by the Obama administration for election interference. At the time, the FBI was investigating whether the Trump campaign had coordinated with Russia to tip the election in Trump's favor.