President Donald Trump said Sunday he is considering a full pardon for former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about dealings with Russia’s ambassador before Trump took office.
Flynn attempted to withdraw the guilty plea in January, saying federal prosecutors had acted in “bad faith” and broke their end of the bargain when they sought prison time for him.
“I am strongly considering a Full Pardon!” Trump tweeted. The president also cited an unspecified report that the Justice Department had lost records related to Flynn's case. In response, Flynn's lawyer, Sidney Powell, tweeted, “Thank you, Mr. President” and said “the persecution” of his client “is an egregious injustice.”
Prosecutors had initially said Flynn was entitled to avoid prison time because of his extensive cooperation, but the relationship with the retired Army lieutenant general grew increasingly contentious after he hired a new set of lawyers.
Flynn is one of six Trump aides and associates charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.
He pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition period and provided extensive cooperation to Mueller’s team of investigators.
His attorneys raised repeated misconduct allegations against the government — which a judge has since rejected — and prosecutors have responded by calling into question whether Flynn truly accepts guilt.
Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered Flynn's sentencing hearing to be canceled "until further order of the court." He gave both Flynn and the Justice Department more time to submit filings on Flynn's request to withdraw his guilty plea, including claims he received ineffective legal assistance from his former lawyers.
Following Flynn’s attempt to withdraw his plea, the Justice Department abruptly offered a more lenient sentencing recommendation.
The latest sentencing filing still seeks a sentence of up six months, but unlike before, prosecutors explicitly state that probation would be a “reasonable” punishment and that they would not oppose it.
Trump has not been shy about using his clemency powers in high-profile cases.
Last month Trump commuted the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and pardoned former New York City Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik. Among the others getting a break from the president were financier Michael Milken and Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former San Francisco 49ers owner.
Trump has faced criticism for weighing in on the cases of former aides. When he confirmed his most moves in February, he said he had yet to think about pardoning longtime confidant Roger Stone, who awaited sentencing at the time, or granting clemency to Flynn or former campaign chairman Paul Manafort,
But he made clear he was sympathetic to their plight. "Somebody has to stick up for the people,” Trump said.