Appeals Court Panel Upholds Justice Dept. Request for Dismissal of Michael Flynn Case
How do you feel about the Court upholding the dismissal of charges against Michael Flynn?
by Causes | 6.24.20
What’s the story?
- A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday ruled that District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan must grant the Dept. of Justice’s motion to dismiss former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s guilty plea to lying to investigators about conversations with the Russian ambassador.
- In early May, the DOJ entered the motion to drop the charges against Flynn after a review of all existing and newly revealed evidence showed that the FBI’s January 24, 2017, interview with Flynn in which he lied to investigators wasn’t properly predicated and was “conducted without any legitimate investigative basis.”
- The FBI had previously been conducting a counterintelligence probe into Flynn on the theory he was compromised by Russia, but found “no derogatory information” and considered closing the case altogether.
- Instead, the FBI considered his prosecution under the Logan Act ― a law enacted in 1799 that has only been used in two prosecutions, neither of which yielded a conviction ― but ultimately no Logan Act charges were ever filed. When the DOJ moved to drop the charges against Flynn, it revealed evidence the FBI agents involved were discussing whether the goal of the interview was, “Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”
- In response to the motion to dismiss, D.C. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan took the unusual step of appointing an amicus to stand in for the prosecution and argue for upholding the guilty plea, and a hearing on the motion to dismiss was delayed until July 16th. That led Flynn’s defense team to seek relief & immediate dismissal from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
- In response to the panel’s decision, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Great! Appeals Court Upholds Justice Departments Request To Drop Criminal Case Against General Michael Flynn!”
What’s next for the case?
- Given that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals three judge panel ordered Judge Sullivan to grant the DOJ’s motion to dismiss and vacated his order to appoint an amicus as moot, it’s likely the end of the matter so the charges against Flynn will be dropped.
- However, it is possible that Judge Sullivan could appeal for an en banc review by the full D.C. Circuit, although it’s unclear whether that would result in a different outcome.
What did the judges say?
- The three judge panel issued a 2-1 decision. Judge Neomi Rao wrote the majority opinion that was joined by Judge Karen Henderson, which read in part:
“Whatever the precise scope of Rule 48’s “leave of court” requirement, this is plainly not the rare case where further judicial inquiry is warranted. To begin with, Flynn agrees with the government’s motion to dismiss, and there has been no allegation that the motion reflects prosecutorial harassment. Additionally, the government’s motion includes an extensive discussion of newly discovered evidence casting Flynn’s guilt into doubt. Specifically, the government points to evidence that the FBI interview at which Flynn allegedly made false statements was “untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn.” In light of this evidence, the government maintains it cannot “prove either the relevant false statements of their materiality beyond a reasonable doubt.” Insufficient evidence is a quintessential justification for dismissing charges.”
- Judge Rao’s opinion, joined by Judge Henderson, also weighed in on Sullivan’s decision to appoint an amicus:
“These clearly established legal principles and the Executive’s “long-settled primacy over charging decisions,” foreclose the district court’s proposed scrutiny of the government’s motion to dismiss the Flynn prosecution. Before this court, the district judge explains that he plans to “question the bona fides of the government’s motion,” “inquire about the government’s motions and representations,” “illuminat[e] the full circumstances surrounding the proposed dismissal,” and probe “whether the presumption of regularity for prosecutorial decisions is overcome” in “the unusual facts of this case”. A hearing may sometimes may sometimes be appropriate before granting leave of court under Rule 48; however, a hearing cannot be used as an occasion to superintend the prosecution’s charging decisions, because “authority over criminal charging decisions resides fundamentally with the Executive, without the involvement of ― and without oversight power in ― the Judiciary.” The district court’s orders appointing an amicus, and scheduling the proposed hearing therefore constitute clear legal error.”
- Judge Robert Wilkins wrote the dissenting opinion, which read in part:
“The Government may be entitled to “leave of court” under Rule 48(a) to dismiss the criminal information to which Flynn pled guilty, but that is not for us, as a Court of Appeals, to decide in the first instance. Rather, the District Court must be given a reasonable opportunity to consider and hold a hearing on the Government’s request to ensure that it is not clearly contrary to the public interest.”
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr / Creative Commons)
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