Vice President Pence said Thursday he was “more inclined” to believe that former national security adviser Michael Flynn unintentionally misled him in early 2017 about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, an event that triggered Flynn’s firing by the White House.
Pence told reporters while traveling in Indiana that he was “deeply troubled” by new documents released in Flynn’s criminal case, describing them as evidence of “investigative abuse.”
“I think Gen. Michael Flynn is a patriotic American who served with great distinction in the armed forces,” Pence told reporters. “I’m deeply troubled by the revelations of what appears to have been investigative abuse by officials in the Justice Department and we are going to continue to look into that very carefully.”
Asked if Flynn was appropriately fired, Pence didn’t answer directly but said: “I know what Gen. Flynn told me and I’m more inclined to believe it was unintentional than ever before.”
Pence’s remarks followed new documents released by a federal judge late Wednesday showing FBI agents discussing how to handle Flynn’s 2017 interview in connection with the investigation into Russian interference.
“What’s our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” an unnamed FBI agent wrote in 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.”
Flynn’s attorneys say the new documents bolster their case that Flynn was the victim of prosecutorial misconduct. In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. by saying the two did not discuss sanctions on Moscow, but he has since claimed he was entrapped by the bureau and sought to withdraw that guilty plea.
Legal analysts have doubted the significance of the exchanges revealed on Wednesday, saying that prosecutors and FBI agents normally debate how to approach interviews of targets, subjects or witnesses in an investigation. Flynn himself has said in court that he knew lying to the FBI was a crime and that he was not entrapped by the bureau, before reversing course and seeking to withdraw his plea in January.
Flynn was ousted from his role as White House national security adviser in February 2017, shortly after press reports citing U.S. intelligence revealed that he discussed sanctions with the Russian diplomat despite Flynn telling Pence and other top White House officials that the issue was not discussed.
President Trump has also weighed in on the developments, telling reporters earlier Thursday that Flynn was “tormented” by the FBI and asserting that the new documents “essentially exonerated” his former aide.
Trump has long criticized the FBI agents who conducted the investigation into Russian interference and his campaign’s contacts with Moscow, a probe that dogged the first half of his presidency. Trump’s supportive remarks about Flynn are likely to increase speculation the president could look to pardon his former aide or others ensnared in the Russia probe.