The case against Michael Flynn must be dismissed by US District Judge Emmet Sullivan, a federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday. The ruling effectively ends the United States’ prosecution of Donald Trump’s former national security adviser.
In a 2-1 ruling, the appeals court granted a writ of mandamus. The majority opinion, written by D.C. Circuit Court Judge Neomi Rao, called Sullivan’s actions since the Trump administration first attempted to drop the case, “unprecedented intrusions on individual liberty.” Specifically, Rao took aim at Sullivan’s appointing of a third party to challenge the federal government’s bid to drop the case against Flynn. Rao also said the first judge’s actions were an intrusion on the prosecutor’s power to decide whether or not a person deserves to be prosecuted.
Rao wrote that the case brought to the three-justice panel was about whether or not, after prosecution is no longer in the public interest, the district judge may prolong the prosecution by appointing an amicus, encouraging public participation, and probing the government’s motives. She wrote that both the constitution and existing case law showed the district judge absolutely could not.
D.C. Circuit Court Judge Robert L. Wilkins wrote the dissenting opinion on the case and pointed out the three-justice panel’s actions overstepped its own bounds. Wilkins said it appeared to be the first time the appeals court granted a writ of mandamus to compel a district court to rule in a particular manner on a motion without allowing the lower court time to issue its own ruling on whether or not it would take its own actions.
The ruling in Flynn’s favor is, as Kristine Phillips of USA Today pointed out, the latest move in what has been a long and protracted legal battle with several twists and turns. It comes after Judge Sullivan appointed another judge to review the Department of Justice’s motion to dismiss the case.
In 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with a former Russian ambassador, USA Today reported. Those communications were carried out after President Trump was elected but before he officially took office. The former national security adviser reversed course and claimed the FBI entrapped him into making false statements.
William Barr’s Justice Department also reversed course, asking Sullivan to drop the case against Flynn. After several former prosecutors on the case resigned when the request was filed, Sullivan appointed the third party — the amicus — to investigate whether Flynn committed the crime of perjury. Sullivan believed there was a chance Flynn’s admission of making false statements to law enforcement, then claiming he was innocent, further incriminated him.
The majority on the appeals court felt Sullivan appointing the amicus was a “mistaken understanding” of a judge’s role in a case like Flynn’s.
“Demonstrated intent to scrutinize the reasoning and motives of the Department of Justice constitute irreparable harms that cannot be remedied on appeal.” Rao wrote.
Not long after the ruling President Trump took to Twitter to voice his pleasure about the turn of events.
“Great! Appeals court upholds Justice Department’s request to drop criminal case against General Michael Flynn!”