Former Justice Dept. Official Criticizes Dismissed Charges Against Flynn
WASHINGTON — Former Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates renewed suspicions of favoritism in Senate testimony Wednesday about the dropped charges against the Trump administration’s first national security advisor.
She called the dismissal of charges against Michael Flynn for allegedly lying to the FBI “highly irregular.”
Flynn is a retired Army lieutenant general who was sworn in as national security advisor on Jan. 22, 2017 but served only 22 days. He resigned amid allegations that he engaged in unauthorized communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
He was also accused of misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his calls with Kislyak.
Flynn reached an agreement with the Justice Department in December 2017 to plead guilty to a felony count of “willfully and knowingly” making false statements to the FBI. He also agreed to cooperate with investigators looking into Russian manipulation of the 2016 election intended to boost the campaign of President Donald Trump.
In January, he withdrew his guilty plea. U.S. Attorney General William Barr, a Trump appointee, then announced the Justice Department would drop charges against him.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington last week decided to review whether charges against Flynn should be dropped. A hearing in the case is set for Aug. 11.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked whether the Justice Department investigation of Flynn was motivated by political allies of former President Barack Obama, particularly when they invoked authority under the Logan Act.
The Logan Act is an obscure 18th century federal law that criminalizes unauthorized negotiations by American citizens with foreign governments involved in disputes with the United States.
Yates, who was the sole witness during the Senate hearing Wednesday, said the Logan Act “wasn’t our primary concern.”
Instead, the FBI and Justice Department wanted to know whether Flynn created a national security risk by secretly negotiating with the Russian ambassador.
“It was a counterintelligence concern,” Yates said.
She denied assertions that the Obama administration sought to undermine Trump by launching the investigation against Flynn and his other top advisors. Obama announced sanctions against the Russians as evidence surfaced they interfered in the 2016 election.
Yates said the investigation was motivated only by a desire to determine whether it was safe to share national security information with incoming Trump administration officials. Flynn admitted he advised the Russian ambassador on how to minimize the effect of Obama’s sanctions but later lied to the FBI about giving the advice.
“General Flynn had essentially neutered the U.S. government’s message of deterrence,” Yates said.
The Senate’s review of the FBI investigation, which was called Crossfire Hurricane, was led by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a Trump ally.
Graham repeatedly clashed with Yates, particularly over an FBI interview with Flynn on Jan. 24, 2017. Flynn denied inappropriate discussions with the Russians during the interview.
Then Acting Attorney General Yates responded by warning other Trump administration officials that he lied and could be open to being bribed.
Graham characterized Yates’ allegations against Flynn as personal animosity.
Graham said Obama administration officials, such as Yates, investigated Flynn because “they hated his guts.”
“The only problem here is you didn’t like Flynn talking about changing the policy,” Graham said.
Democrats were more sympathetic toward Yates, largely agreeing with her that she followed standard procedures while trying to do her job.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said, “Flynn was not treated unfairly.”
The dismissal of charges against him after lying to the FBI indicates inappropriate favoritism by Trump’s Justice Department officials, she said.
“I believe it sends the wrong message,” Feinstein said.
In the early minutes of the hearing, Trump tweeted a message saying, “Sally Yates has zero credibility. She was a part of the greatest political crime of the Century, and ObamaBiden knew EVERYTHING!”