Trump says Flynn ‘essentially exonerated’ by new documents
President Trump said Thursday that his former national security adviser Michael Flynn has been “essentially exonerated” by new documents unsealed in his criminal case.
“He’s in the process of being exonerated. If you look at those notes from yesterday, that was total exoneration,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday, after suggesting that the media wasn’t covering the story properly. “These were dirty, filthy cops at the top of the FBI.”
“He is essentially exonerated,” Trump continued. “Now, that’s not official yet, but when you read the notes, how can you do anything else?”
Trump was reacting to new documents that show FBI agents debating how to handle a January 2017 interview with Flynn. One bureau agent asked in a handwritten note whether their goal was to “to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired.”
Flynn’s attorneys argue that the documents support claims that Flynn was a victim of prosecutorial misconduct, though legal experts have disputed the significance of the new materials.
The former national security adviser pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. regarding sanctions on Moscow as part of an agreement to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He moved to withdraw his guilty plea two years later.
Trump declined Thursday to say whether he planned to pardon Flynn but offered support for his former adviser, praising Flynn’s military service and calling him a “fine man” who had been “tormented.” Trump signaled he would be watching the case closely.
Flynn’s sentencing was delayed after he moved to withdraw his guilty plea in January.
“Now, we have to see what’s going to happen, but General Flynn was treated … like nobody in this country should be treated,” Trump told reporters while meeting with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) in the Oval Office.
“They came at him with 15 buses and he’s standing into the middle of the highway,” Trump continued. “They tormented him. They destroyed him.”
Asked whether he thought it was a mistake to fire Flynn in February 2017 after details about his contacts with the Russian diplomat emerged, Trump said he wished he had “all of the information” to weigh the question.
Trump also said that he doesn’t “have to stay out of it,” apparently referring to Flynn’s case, but that he would “like to stay out of it.”
Documents provided to Flynn’s attorneys and released by a federal judge late Wednesday showed FBI agents discussing how to handle the 2017 interview with Flynn, which occurred when he was still employed by the executive branch.
“What’s our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” reads a handwritten note included among the documents. “If we get him to admit to breaking the Logan Act, give facts to DOJ & have them decide. Or, if he initially lies, then we present him [redacted] & he admits it, document for DOJ, & let them decide how to address it.”
“If we’re seen as playing games, WH will be furious,” the note reads. “Protect our institution by not playing games.”
Conservatives have seized on the documents as evidence bolstering claims that Flynn was entrapped by the FBI. However, some legal experts have argued that conversations among prosecutors about interview scenarios are not unusual.
“This is what we do before we are about to interview someone whether that person is a target, a subject or a witness,” said Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C. “All the FBI did is that they decided it was tactically in their interest to do an open-ended interview.”
Kirschner also doubted that the documents would help advance Flynn’s argument, noting that Flynn told U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, the federal judge handling his case, in December 2018 that he knew lying to the FBI was a crime and answered “no” when asked whether he was entrapped by the bureau.
Ultimately, Sullivan, a Clinton appointee, will decide whether the documents bolster Flynn’s claims that he was set up by the FBI when he lied about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.
Updated at 2:54 p.m.