Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to Donald Trump, had his criminal case dropped dramatically by the US Justice Department on Thursday despite initially admitting to the crime.
It amounted to a remarkable about-turn by the department, which for three years has insisted Mr Flynn lied to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador shortly before taking office in 2017.
Mr Flynn had once even pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI agents. He then became a key cooperator for special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling and connections with Mr Trump's 2016 campaign.
But in recent months Mr Flynn’s lawyers have taken a more confrontational approach, including attempting to withdraw his guilty plea, as more evidence has emerged about the FBI’s role in carrying out interview.
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Furthermore his case has become a cause célèbre among the American Right, with Mr Trump voicing claims that Mr Flynn had been a victim of an FBI set-up.
Mr Trump last week said that Mr Flynn had been “exonerated” as new evidence of the FBI’s behaviour emerged and did not rule out allowing the former general to return to his administration.
On Thursday Mr Trump reacted to the news by praising Mr Flynn as an "innocent man", a “great gentleman” and a “great warrior”.
He said Mr Flynn had been “targeted” by the out-going Barack Obama administration, calling those who investigated him “human scum” and warning of a “big price” to pay.
Asked if he would reach out to Mr Flynn, Mr Trump said: "I will… At the appropriate time. I think he’s a hero. It was a scam and a hoax.”
But as conservative circles hailed the decision as a victory for fairness, critics expressed shock and said it proved the Justice Department has become politicised under Mr Trump.
Claire McCaskill, the former Democratic senator for Missouri, said the news “sends a chill down my spine”, adding: “We have lost our way and respect for the rule of law.”
The case centres on conversations Mr Flynn had with Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the US, before becoming Mr Trump’s national security adviser in January 2017.
Mr Flynn discussed sanctions with Mr Kislyak. He then denied the fact when news of the conversations emerged, including to FBI agents who interviewed him about it on January 24 2017.
Mr Flynn was fired shortly afterwards when it emerged he had misled Mike Pence, the US vice president, about the nature of the calls. He later pleaded guilty to the crime of lying to the FBI.
However the conduct of the FBI during the saga has come under increasing scrutiny and new evidence has emerged, all cheered on by Mr Trump who has alleged an attempt to discredit his presidency.
One handwritten note from a senior FBI official mapping out the purpose of the Flynn interview read: "What's our goal? Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?"
On Thursday, the Justice Department’s new court filing said the FBI interview with Mr Flynn was “untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into Mr Flynn".
It said the case would be dropped “after a considered review of all the facts and circumstances of this case, including newly discovered and disclosed information”.