The Department of Justice dropped its case against retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn on May 7 after prosecuting the former national security adviser for nearly 18 months for lying to the FBI.
Attorney General William Barr ended the DOJ’s pursuit of Flynn after a review of the case turned up evidence that the FBI investigation into Flynn was carried out on unjust grounds, and that Flynn’s statements did not have a “material impact” on the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election.
“It’s on the question of materiality that we feel really that a crime cannot be established here because there was not, in our view, a legitimate investigation going on,” Barr said in a May 7 interview with CBS News. “They did not have a basis for a counterintelligence investigation against Flynn at that stage, based on a perfectly legitimate and appropriate call he made as a member of the transition.”
Barr’s decision to drop the case is the likely end of United States v. Flynn. The following timeline highlights some of the case’s key moments:
Nov. 18: Trump names retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security adviser. Flynn had joined Trump’s campaign in February as an adviser on national security issues.
December: Flynn holds a series of phone calls with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kisilyak. The incoming national security adviser tells Kisilyak that the Trump administration will review sanctions that will soon be placed on Moscow by the Obama administration. The conversation presumably causes Russia to give an uncharacteristically muted response after sanctions are announced on Dec. 29.
Unknown to Flynn, U.S. intelligence agencies are spying on Kisilyak and, through the course of that surveillance, gain recordings of the Flynn-Kisilyak phone calls. Those recordings are later used to charge Flynn with lying to the FBI.
Jan. 4: The FBI’s Washington Field Office prepares to close an investigation into Flynn launched as part of a larger FBI probe into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, known as Operation Crossfire Hurricane. The field office’s investigation into Flynn, dubbed Crossfire Razor, found “no derogatory information” and drafted a memo to close the case file.
FBI special agent Peter Strzok intervenes before the case is officially closed, texting the FBI case manager on the day the memo to close Crossfire Razor is drafted, “Hey don’t close RAZOR.” Strzok said that FBI leadership are involved in the case and that he needs “to decide what to do with [Flynn with respect to] the [REDACTED].”
The messages are published in court documents unsealed on April 30, 2020.
Jan. 12: David Ignateus at The Washington Post writes a column revealing Flynn spoke to Kisilyak in December and openly speculates whether those phone calls were the reason for Russia’s response to President Obama’s sanctions.
Jan. 15: Vice President-elect Mike Pence appears on CBS’s Face The Nation and other networks and denies that Flynn spoke with Kisilyak about sanctions on Russia, citing conversations the incoming vice president had with Flynn.
“[Flynn] had sent a text to the Russian ambassador to express not only Christmas wishes but sympathy for the loss of life in the airplane crash that took place. It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia,” Pence tells host John Dickerson.
Jan. 24: FBI director James Comey sends two FBI agents, including Strzok, to the White House to interview Flynn about his conversations with Kisilyak. Comey, by his own admission, skirted normal FBI-White House protocols and communications channels to get the interview. Strzok and the other FBI interviewer have already been briefed on the contents of the Flynn-Kisilyak calls.
After the interview, Strzok and the other FBI interviewer “had the impression at the time that Flynn was not lying or did not think he was lying,” according to an FBI summary of the interview.
FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe was central to setting up the FBI-Flynn interview, urging Flynn in a phone call that morning to meet with the FBI agents without a lawyer. McCabe said that recent leaks about Flynn’s phone calls made the interview necessary and that the fewer people involved, the faster the investigation into Russian election meddling could move on, according to December 2018 court filings.
McCabe and others made the decision not to warn Flynn that lying to the FBI is a crime. They “wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport,” according to FBI documents.
Feb. 13: Flynn resigns as national security adviser, admitting that he misled Pence about the full extent of the conversations with Kisilyak.
“I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology,” Flynn writes in his resignation letter.
May 17: Robert Mueller is appointed as special counsel and takes over the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Dec. 1: Mueller’s team charges Flynn with lying to the FBI. Flynn pleads guilty and faces up to five years in prison. According to the charging documents, Flynn’s “false statements and omissions impeded and otherwise had a material impact on the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the existence of any links or coordination between individuals associated with the [Trump] Campaign and Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.”
Flynn begins cooperating with federal investigators on the Russia probe and other DOJ investigations.
April 18: Attorney General Barr releases a redacted version of the Mueller report, which says in part, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
May 29: Mueller announces an end to his investigation and closes the special counsel’s office. Brandon Van Grack, who served as Mueller’s senior assistant special counsel, takes over the Flynn case from Mueller.
June 6: Flynn fires his legal team at Covington & Burling.
June 12: Flynn hires attorney Sydney Powell, an outspoken critic of the Mueller investigation. Powell starts aggressively defending Flynn, and Flynn’s cooperative relationship with federal investigators begins to break down.
Aug. 30: Powell accuses Van Grack’s team of violating her client’s civil rights and withholding exculpatory evidence in violation of the Brady rule. Powell demands the DOJ turn over more documents such as unredacted texts between Strzok and DOJ attorney Lisa Page and summaries on FBI interviews with DOJ official Bruce Ohr.
Oct. 1: Van Grack insists the government has turned all relevant materials and calls Powell’s accusations “an effort by the defendant to have his case dismissed.”
“Since the beginning of their involvement, the defendant’s new counsel, have sought to get the charges dropped, professed their client’s actual innocence, and perpetuated conspiracy theories, all while stating that the defendant does not intend to withdraw his guilty plea,” the prosecution writes.
Jan. 14: Flynn files a motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
Feb. 14: Barr taps U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, Jeff Jensen, to work alongside Van Grack and review Flynn’s case.
April 29: Unsealed court documents reveal handwritten notes reportedly made by FBI’s former head of counterintelligence Bill Priestap. The notes, purportedly written by Priestap after a meeting with Comey and McCabe, suggest that the FBI intended to set a trap for Flynn.
“What’s our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” the notes say.
“I don’t see how getting someone to admit their wrongdoing is going easy on him,” the notes continue. “If we get him to admit to breaking the Logan Act, give facts to DOJ + have them decide.”
April 30: Strzok’s messages to keep the FBI investigation into Flynn open past Jan. 4 are published in more unsealed court documents.
May 7: DOJ drops its case against Flynn.
“The Government has determined, pursuant to the Principles of Federal Prosecution and based on an extensive review and careful consideration of the circumstances, that continued prosecution of this case would not serve the interests of justice,” the filing says.
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