Barr Orders Flynn Review, Adding to Uproar Over Political Cases

Chris Strohm

(Bloomberg) -- Attorney General William Barr has ordered a review of the prosecution against Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, adding to a series of interventions this week in politically sensitive cases tied to the president.

Barr has appointed U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Jensen to examine the case against Flynn and potentially other matters, according to a person familiar with the decision.

Flynn, who stepped down after less than a month as national security adviser, pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador. He’s since accused prosecutors of “egregious misconduct” and sought to have the charges dismissed.

Barr’s move on the Flynn case, reported earlier Friday by the New York Times, comes after the attorney general intervened this week to reduce his department’s recommended n jail time for Roger Stone, a Trump associate who the president said has been treated unfairly, and announced a special legal channel for Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani to report his findings on Ukraine.

Barr and Trump have rejected accusations that they are politicizing the Justice Department. But Barr issued a remarkable public rebuke of Trump on Thursday, saying in an ABC News interview that the president’s constant tweets on matters before the Justice Department made it “impossible” for him to do his job.

While Barr said he was pleased “the president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case,” Trump responded on Twitter Friday: “This doesn’t mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so, I do, but I have so far chosen not to!”

In a move sure to displease the president, the Justice Department on Friday closed its criminal investigation of Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director who was dismissed after an internal review of his role in disclosing a Clinton Foundation probe to the media. Trump has frequently tweeted denunciations of McCabe, who he’s described as a “disgraced” official who was “fired for lying.”

The Justice Department’s week of controversies began Monday, when Barr announced the special channel for Giuliani to funnel information he’s obtained in Ukraine. Giuliani has said he’s collecting information about the activities of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter in the eastern European nation. Pressure on Ukraine to announce a probe of Biden and the Democrats became a key issue in Trump’s impeachment by the Democratic-led House and his acquittal by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Criticism surged on Tuesday, when the Justice Department reversed course on the recommendation about Stone’s sentencing after he was convicted of witness tampering and lying to Congress. Four career prosecutors quit the case after Barr cut the recommended penalty to a maximum of four years from nine years.

Nine Democratic senators, including presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, called on Friday for Barr to resign over the intervention in Stone’s case.

“The shocking actions taken by you or your senior staff to seek special protections for Mr. Stone make a mockery of your responsibilities to seek equal justice under the law and reveal that you are unfit to head the DOJ,” the letter says. It was also signed by Senators Chris Van Hollen, Patty Murray, Ron Wyden, Mazie Hirono, Ed Markey, Richard Blumenthal and Jeff Merkley.

‘Stop the Tweeting’

In the ABC News interview on Thursday, Barr criticized the president’s running commentary on pending cases, saying, “It’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases.”

“As I said at my confirmation hearing, I think the essential role of the attorney general is to keep law enforcement, the criminal process sacrosanct to make sure there is no political interference in it,” Barr said. “And I have done that and I will continue to do that.”

The president’s Friday morning tweet asserting his right to intervene in pending cases raised questions about whether he took Barr’s remarks with the equanimity suggested earlier by his spokeswoman.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement on Thursday that Trump “wasn’t bothered by the comments at all, and he has the right, just like any American citizen, to publicly offer his opinions.”

--With assistance from Laura Litvan and Elizabeth Wasserman.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Strohm in Washington at cstrohm1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net, Larry Liebert

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