On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he was pardoning former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was at the center of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and alleged obstruction of justice by the president.
The move comes almost three years to the day after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 presidential transition, in which he convinced Russia to hold off on retaliating against the United States for sanctions related to its interference in that election. As Trump himself acknowledged at the time, Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence and to the FBI about that conversation, which may have violated the obscure and rarely enforced Logan Act.
Mueller was appointed special counsel after it emerged that Trump had pressured FBI Director James Comey into dropping the investigation of Flynn before firing him.
As part of his eventual cooperation deal with Mueller, Flynn told prosecutors that he couldn’t recall whether Trump was aware at the time of the potentially illegal conversation with Kislyak. In exchange for initially cooperating, Flynn reportedly had a number of potential other charges against him dropped. Mueller also seemed to have dropped possible investigations into his son, Michael Flynn Jr.
After Mueller’s appointment ended, Flynn attempted to recant his guilty plea earlier this year, an issue that has continued to play out in federal court for months. Attorney General William Barr’s Department of Justice also attempted to drop the proceedings against Flynn in the sentencing phase, causing members of that prosecutorial team to resign from their positions on that team. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, though, demanded an accounting of why the DOJ took the unprecedented step of attempting to undo the guilty plea after the fact.
The terms of Flynn’s pardon were not immediately available beyond Trump’s declaration of a “full pardon” and so it’s unclear if that pardon covers any other possible crimes that might have been dropped under Flynn’s rescinded cooperation agreement.
It follows a commutation earlier this year of Roger Stone, another Trump ally who was convicted for his effort to try to protect Trump and alleged to have potentially incriminating evidence on the president.
On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that Trump was preparing a “blitz” of pardons for top allies who have been indicted or convicted of crimes during his presidency, potentially including Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, and Elliott Broidy.*
Once these men have been pardoned, they can be subpoenaed to testify before Congress about their crimes or possible crimes, cannot cite the Fifth Amendment in declining to testify, and can be forced to reveal the full truth about any criminal action and any possible involvement of Trump. It will be up to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler to decide how interested in the truth and accountability congressional Democrats actually are.
On Wednesday, Nadler accused the president of pardoning Flynn in order to potentially cover up “the President’s own wrongdoing,” but made no note of further action on his committee’s part.
“This pardon is part of a pattern,” Nadler said. “We saw it before, in the Roger Stone case—where President Trump granted clemency to protect an individual who might have implicated the President in criminal misconduct. We may see it again before President Trump finally leaves office. These actions are an abuse of power and fundamentally undermine the rule of law.”
Nadler’s statement, however, made no indication he had any interest in using his own very real power to uncover the facts behind these abuses of power.
“President-Elect Biden will soon take office and restore a measure of honor to the Office of the President,” Nadler continued. “Between now and then, we must be vigilant to additional abuses of power, even as we look with hope to days to come.”
Correction, Nov. 25, 2020: This post originally misspelled Elliott Broidy’s first name.