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Federal Appeals Court Orders To Drop Michael Flynn's Case


The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the government could drop its own case against President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. The ruling came this morning, hours before lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Justice Department lawyers. They say the president's former associates received preferential treatment from the attorney general, William Barr. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler opened the hearing with these words.


JERROLD NADLER: Mr. Barr's work at the Department of Justice has nothing to do with correcting injustice. He is the president's fixer. He has shown us that there is one set of rules for the president's friends and another set of rules for the rest of us.

MCCAMMON: NPR's national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson joins us now to talk about the day's news. Hi, Carrie.


MCCAMMON: So busy day. Let's start with the testimony from those two Justice Department whistleblowers. What was their concern?

JOHNSON: One of the persons we heard from today is Aaron Zelinsky. He's a prosecutor. He prosecuted Roger Stone. And he says Roger Stone got favorable treatment from the Justice Department because Roger Stone is a longtime friend of President Trump. Zelinsky, the prosecutor, says he heard higher-ups in the office were under heavy pressure from the very top of the Justice Department and that the U.S. attorney in the office was actually afraid of the president.

And the second whistleblower we heard from is John Elias from the antitrust division. Elias accused the antitrust union of opening investigations for improper reasons. One, he said, was open because the president's tweets, and another because Attorney General Barr dislikes the cannabis industry. Elias says that was a waste of resources and an abuse of authority by the Justice Department.

MCCAMMON: And were Republicans on the committee persuaded? How did they respond to the testimony?

JOHNSON: Not at all persuaded, Sarah. In fact, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert knocked his pen on the desk to drown out one of the Democrats' witnesses. At the same time, that witness was calling the attorney general a threat to the rule of law. And other Republicans very quickly pivoted to talking about 2016, casting Attorney General Bill Barr as the hero. Here's Steve Chabot of Ohio.


STEVE CHABOT: He's cleaning up the mess of the previous administration and restoring integrity and honor to the DOJ and the FBI. Now, speaking about messes from the previous administration, Hillary's funding of the Steele dossier and the Pfizer scandal led to the Mueller investigation and the waste of a whole lot of our time and taxpayer dollars.

MCCAMMON: Now, Carrie, this hearing got underway soon after the Trump administration got that huge victory in the appeals court this morning in the case involving former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. What happened there?

JOHNSON: A divided panel of the appeals court for the D.C. Circuit found the judge in the Flynn case had overreached when he appointed someone to look into the reasons why the Justice Department dropped that Flynn prosecution. Remember - Michael Flynn pleaded guilty twice and then tried to get the case dismissed when he got a new lawyer. The new justice leadership, Bill Barr, sided with Flynn. The appeals court has now agreed.

In fact, Sarah, the court majority said it's the prerogative of the executive branch to prosecute or to drop any cases. And Judge Neomi Rao, who was appointed to the bench by President Trump, says to let a judge examine the motivations for abandoning a prosecution like this one, review internal deliberations at justice - and that's not right, she said.

MCCAMMON: And Attorney General William Barr has expressed concern about the president's tweets and comments about criminal cases in the past. But I understand President Trump and the White House had a lot to say today.

JOHNSON: Yeah, the president actually said in the Oval Office this afternoon he's very happy about the appeals court ruling in the Flynn case. He says Flynn has been persecuted. Earlier, he tweeted, asking when former FBI director Jim Comey would apologize to Flynn, and what about Obama and Biden? The White House press secretary also tweeted favorably about the Flynn decision. Now, usually, the Justice Department warns the White House about making remarks about ongoing cases, but that did not happen this time, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thanks so much.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson
Carrie Johnson is NPR's National Justice Correspondent.