In a move that will strengthen speculation that he might also seek to pardon himself, US President Donald Trump pardoned retired Army general Michael Flynn – his former national security adviser – who had been charged in connection with the Russia investigation.
Trump tweeted out the news on Wednesday, 25 November, saying that it was a “Great Honor” to announce that Flynn had been granted a full pardon, and wishing him for the US Thanksgiving holiday.
It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon. Congratulations to @GenFlynn and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 25, 2020
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about communications with Russia’s ambassador to the US prior to Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, meaning he was guilty of the offences charged under the law, but had not yet been sentenced.
After he tried to withdraw his plea, the US Justice Department sought to have the case against him dismissed, but the judge declined to do so.
As a result of the pardon, Flynn will not face a prison sentence – prosecutors had asked for a six month jail term, according to Reuters.
Why Was Flynn in the Dock?
Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI by saying he had not discussed US sanctions on Russia, imposed by former US President Barack Obama towards the end of his term in office, with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late 2016.
Flynn had been appointed as Trump’s first NSA when he took office in January 2017, but was removed just a month later after, AP reports, when the news broke that Obama administration officials informed the White House about Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak, which left him open to blackmail.
He was eventually pulled into the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, who was investigating claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to push for a Trump presidency. Flynn is not the only one of Trump’s former associates to face charges as a result of the investigation.
As Reuters reports, longtime advisor Roger Stone was convicted for obstruction of justice and sentenced to 40 months in jail, and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison as well. Trump commuted Stone’s sentence in July, days before he was supposed to arrive in prison.
Although the Justice Department reversed its position on Flynn’s case, saying that the FBI actually had no basis to interview him about his statements to Kislyak, it had not been consulted by Trump on the pardon itself and also only learned of the President’s decision on Wednesday.
Trump had indicated in March that he was thinking of a full pardon for Flynn, who had come on board his campaign in 2016 and notoriously led Trump supporters in chants of “Lock her up” at the Republican National Convention that year.
Corruption & Abuse of Power: Democrats
Democrats slammed the pardon, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi terming it “an act of grave corruption and a brazen abuse of power.” She went on to add:
"“Trump is again using the pardon power to protect those who lie to cover up his wrongdoing, just as he did when he commuted the sentence of campaign advisor Roger Stone, who was convicted on seven felony counts.”"
Noting that Flynn’s actions were a serious and dangerous breach of national security, she stated that the pardon “is further proof that Trump plans to use his final days in office to undermine the rule of law in the wake of his failed presidency” and urged the new Congress to pass a law to prevent any US President from abusing the pardon power like this.
Trump had previously pardoned Army personnel accused of war crimes in Afghanistan as well as controversial former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, Reuters notes. The highest profile pardon by Barack Obama at the end of his tenure had been for whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
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