(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: National security adviser General Michael Flynn delivers a statement daily briefing at the White House in Washington U.S.
By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal judge on Tuesday weighed whether to grant a request by the Justice Department to dismiss a criminal charge against President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn in a highly anticipated court hearing.
The hearing pits the Justice Department and Flynn’s defense attorneys against John Gleeson, a former trial judge who was tapped by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan to argue against the government’s position that the case should be dropped.
“I’m going to spend some time essentially capturing the essence of the opening arguments,” Sullivan said at the outset of the hearing.
After Sullivan spent roughly an hour spelling out the history of the case and recapping each side’s arguments, he was forced to delay the proceedings being conducted remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic after one of the prosecutor’s microphones stopped working properly.
Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, was charged under former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that detailed Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election to boost Trump’s candidacy.
Flynn pleaded guilty twice to lying to the FBI about his conversations before Trump took office with Sergey Kislyak, who was then Russia’s ambassador to the United States, concerning U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia under President Barack Obama.
He was due to be sentenced in December 2018. Sullivan delayed that until Flynn could finish cooperating with the government in another pending criminal case out of Virginia.
“That’s the reason why I postponed sentencing,” Sullivan recalled. “To give him every opportunity to help himself at the final sentencing stage.”
Last year, Flynn switched lawyers and pursued a scorched-earth defense strategy by claiming the FBI had set him up.
In May, Attorney General William Barr stunned many in the legal community by ordering prosecutors to have the case dropped. Critics have accused Barr of giving special treatment to Trump allies.
The unusual move led Sullivan to tap Gleeson, whom he instructed to argue against the Justice Department’s legal position and to address whether Flynn should be held in criminal contempt for lying to the court when he pleaded guilty.
Sullivan said on Tuesday he does not plan during the hearing to address the question of whether to hold Flynn in contempt, noting the parties’ positions on that “are crystal clear.”
Flynn’s attorneys tried to force Sullivan’s hand by appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, arguing that Sullivan is required by law to grant the Justice Department’s request for dismissal.
Sullivan has said he is “not a rubber stamp” and wants to carefully scrutinize the Justice Department’s request before deciding whether to grant it.
The court handed Flynn a short-lived victory in June, directing Sullivan to drop the criminal charge. Sullivan asked the court for a re-hearing of the case, and on August 31, the appellate court overturned the prior order, saying Sullivan has the authority to appoint Gleeson and hear arguments.
U.S. judge weighs whether to drop criminal case against ex-Trump adviser Flynn
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