President Donald Trump voiced strong support Thursday for his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, raising speculation that a pardon may be coming after Flynn’s lawyers disclosed internal FBI documents they claim show the FBI tried to “intentionally frame” him.
Trump said he believes Flynn should now be cleared in court, but if that doesn’t happen, he as president has “a different type of power.”
“It looks to me like Michael Flynn would be exonerated based on everything I see,” Trump told reporters Thursday. “I’m not the judge, but I have a different type of power. But I don’t know that anybody would have to use that power. I think he’s exonerated.”
Trump has long said he is considering pardoning Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. The president spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning retweeting supportive statements of Flynn and condemned the FBI’s investigation into his one-time adviser
“They came at him with 15 buses and he’s standing in the middle of the highway. What they did to this man,” Trump said at an earlier event at the White House, without specifying what he meant. “They tormented him. They destroyed him. But he’s going to come back.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called into Fox News Channel to react to the release of the FBI documents, saying, “If true, it is extremely troubling.”
“If all this proves to be true, you will have, certainly, a major, major error on the part of top leadership at the FBI, which could well warrant additional charges against them,” he said.
Lawyers for Flynn over the last two days released a series of internal correspondence obtained through a Justice Department review of the handling of the case. They contend the documents bolster their allegations that Flynn was set up to lie when he was questioned at the White House three years ago, and show that agents were prepared to drop an investigation into him just weeks before they set out to question him.
Still, the documents don’t directly address the central allegation in the case – that Flynn lied to the FBI. It’s also unclear how much significance they will carry with the judge, who has already publicly scolded Flynn and rejected many defence allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. The judge, Emmet Sullivan, has not ruled on Flynn’s request to withdraw his guilty plea.
Among the documents is a redacted internal memo from Jan. 4, 2017, saying the FBI was closing out its investigation into whether a subject with the code name of Crossfire Razor was an agent of a foreign power or acting under the direction of Russia. The subject is described as a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who travelled to Russia in 2015.
Flynn’s attorney Sidney Powell confirmed Thursday that Crossfire Razor was Flynn.
But about two weeks later, according to the documents, case agent Peter Strzok told a colleague not to close the case and to “pls keep it open for now.” In communication with FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who expressed surprise the case was still open, Strzok responded, “Yeah, our utter incompetence actually helps us.”
Strzok and Page have attracted Trump’s derision for exchanging derogatory texts about him during the 2016 campaign. Both have since left the FBI.
By later in the month, the FBI determined they wanted to interview Flynn about conversations he had during the presidential transition period with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in which the men discussed sanctions recently imposed on Russia over election interference.
Agents questioned Flynn at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017, when the FBI says he lied about the Kislyak conversations. He later acknowledged misleading federal agents and, at his sentencing hearing a year later, did not contest the way he was interviewed.
But Flynn’s attorneys point to the newly disclosed documents to suggest the FBI had no basis to question Flynn and had already been prepared to close an investigation into him.
“The revelations of corruption by the FBI to intentionally frame Gen Flynn for crimes the FBI manufactured piles on with each new production of documents,” Powell wrote in a statement.
A federal prosecutor from Missouri is reviewing the Justice Department’s handling of the case at the direction of Attorney General William Barr. The department said the documents were provided as part of that review.
Prosecutors haven’t responded to the defence team’s disclosures, though they have previously denied accusations of misconduct. Sullivan, too, has rejected many of the defence arguments in the past.
Even so, Flynn – who was among the first of the president’s aides charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia – has emerged as something of a cause celebre for supporters of the president. They have rallied around the retired Army lieutenant-general and seized on the findings of a critical watchdog report on the Russia investigation to try to cast doubt on the entire probe.
Trump has not been shy about using his pardon power to help political allies and those he believes have been wronged by an out-of-control justice system. He has also expressed a desire to intervene in the case of another ally: long-time political adviser Roger Stone.
Other documents released by Flynn’s lawyers include FBI emails and handwritten notes showing officials grappling with how best to approach Flynn, how much information to provide him during the interview and what to do if he made a false statement.
One page of handwritten notes from an FBI official, dated the day of the interview, appears to recap an internal debate about how to proceed.
“What’s our goal? Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” the notes say.
The notes also say, “If we’re seen as playing games, WH will be furious. Protect our institution by not playing games.”
Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 and went on to provide such extensive co-operation that prosecutors said he was entitled to probation instead of prison.
But his sentencing hearing was abruptly postponed after Flynn, following a stern rebuke from Sullivan that raised the prospect of a prison term, asked to be able to continue co-operating and earn credit toward a more lenient sentence.
Since then, Flynn has hired new attorneys, including Powell, a conservative commentator and outspoken critic of Mueller’s investigation, who have taken a more adversarial stance on his behalf.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.