WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr has appointed an outside prosecutor to review the criminal case of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, an official familiar with the matter said Friday.
Barr has tapped Jeffrey Jensen, the chief federal prosecutor in St. Louis, to conduct the review. Flynn and his attorneys have sought to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming the FBI and federal prosecutors engaged in misconduct.
Flynn’s case was one of the first brought by former special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties to the Trump campaign.
The development, first reported by The New York Times, caps off a controversial week for the Justice Department as the agency faces allegations it has succumbed to political pressure from President Donald Trump.
The Justice Department caused an uproar earlier this week after it intervened to reduce its recommended prison sentence for Roger Stone, a longtime friend and ally of Trump who was convicted of seven felonies, including lying to Congress. Career prosecutors who handled the case had asked for a sentence of seven to nine years in prison, which Trump said was a “miscarriage of justice.”
The Justice Department overruled the attorneys, saying the prison recommendation was too harsh. The prosecutors withdrew from Stone’s case in apparent protest. One resigned from the Justice Department.
In an interview with ABC News, Barr pushed back against criticism that he was doing Trump’s bidding. The president “has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case,” he said.
But the fast-moving developments have cast a harsh spotlight on the Justice Department’s leadership, primarily Barr, and have raised fresh questions about the department’s independence from the White House.
Barr speaks out:Trump’s tweets make it ‘impossible for me to do my job’
Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 27. He pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his communication with Sergey Kislyak, a former Russian ambassador to the U.S., in the weeks before Trump took office.
Flynn’s case has been stalled in federal court for two years as his defense team alleges the former Army general was framed in a government conspiracy. Last month, Flynn withdrew his guilty plea, accusing prosecutors of acting in “bad faith” during their investigation.
His defense team, led by conservative lawyer and Fox News commentator Sidney Powell, declared his innocence. Flynn’s attorneys accused the government of forcing him to admit to crimes he didn’t commit and hiding evidence that would’ve exonerated him. A federal judge has rejected those claims.
Flynn’s attorneys did not respond to calls seeking comment.
The government initially recommended Flynn be sentenced to six months in prison, citing his attempts to “thwart” prosecutors and his “apparent failure to accept responsibility.”
Federal prosecutors later softened their position, suggesting that probation is also an “appropriate” sentence for Flynn.
Barr’s decision to tap outside prosecutors to review Flynn’s case comes as the Justice Department conducts another politically charged inquiry into the origins of the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. That probe led to the criminal charges against Flynn and cast a cloud over the first years of Trump’s presidency.
That inquiry, which Barr launched last year, focuses on whether federal investigators abused their surveillance authority in the initial stages of the Russia investigation. John Durham, Connecticut’s chief federal prosecutor, is leading the investigation.
Also this week, the Justice Department decided not to file criminal charges against former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, one of several former FBI officials who have been the target of Trump’s attacks.
The investigation into McCabe stemmed from a Justice Department Inspector General’s report that found he improperly authorized a leak about a federal investigation into the Clinton Foundation in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign. Investigators concluded he displayed a lack of candor when asked about the leak.