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On Wednesday, the three-judge panel of The United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered District Judge Emmet Sullivan to drop the criminal case against President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
In 2017, Flynn was charged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) about his conversations with Russian contacts in late 2016. However, after Mueller had completed his investigation and Attorney General William Barr had taken office, Flynn switched defense teams and rescinded his guilty plea in January this year.
On May 7, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a motion to dismiss the charges against Flynn, arguing that Flynn’s interview with the FBI was “unjustified” and had no “legitimate investigative basis” and thus Flynn’s statements, even if false, were immaterial to the investigation.
However, on May 13 Sullivan requested John Gleeson, a former New York federal judge, to oppose the Justice Department’s motion instead of dismissing Flynn’s case. A few weeks later, Gleeson submitted an 82-paged analysis for Sullivan’s review, calling the Justice Department’s decision a “gross abuse of prosecutorial power” and arguing that Flynn should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice.
However, on May 19, Flynn’s lawyer Sidney Powell filed a petition with the federal appeals court to order Sullivan to follow legal procedure by shutting down his review and dismissing the case.
By a vote of 2-1, the appeals court ruled that Sullivan had interfered with the Justice Department’s “charging authority” by seeking further review.
The ruling means that Sullivan cannot hold the hearing he had set for July 16 to formally review the Justice Department’s motion and Gleeson’s report to make a decision on the Flynn case.
Writing the majority opinion, Judge Neomi Rao stated that the ruling is “about whether, after the government has explained why a prosecution is no longer in the public interest, the district judge may prolong the prosecution by appointing an amicus, encouraging public participation, and probing the government’s motives. On that, both the Constitution and cases are clear: He may not.”
She also added that Sullivan “fails to justify the district court’s unprecedented intrusions on individual liberty and the Executive’s charging authority.”
Rao, a former White House official whom Trump appointed to the appeals court last year, was joined in her opinion by Judge Karen Henderson.
However, Judge Robert Wilikins dissented from the ruling, stating, “It is a great irony that, in finding the District Court to have exceeded its jurisdiction, this Court so grievously oversteps its own."
President Donald Trump tweeted in celebration of the ruling saying, “Great! Appeals Court Upholds Justice Departments Request To Drop Criminal Case Against General Michael Flynn!”
However, some critics have denounced the ruling as a politically motivated move to benefit a Trump ally.
Zac Petkanas, a political consultant and senior staff member for former Secretary of State and Trump’s 2016 presidential election opponent Hillary Clinton, tweeted, “It is kind of stunning how much political capital the Trump Team is willing to blow trying to resurrect the traitorous Michael Flynn’s reputation after he PLEADED GUILTY to federal crimes. It’s a real choice.”
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