President Trump issued a full pardon on Wednesday to Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, putting a Thanksgiving-eve exclamation mark on the president’s yearslong effort to undermine the Russia investigation that ensnared Flynn and many others in Trump’s orbit.
Flynn, a conspiracy-theory-loving Trump loyalist, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December 2017 after admitting he misled federal agents about a conversation he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late 2016. Flynn had discussed with Kislayk whether Russia might hold off on retaliating against sanctions imposed on Moscow by the outgoing Obama administration for interfering in the 2016 election to help Trump, since the incoming Trump team would take a different approach. (That was hardly the only possibly illegal or shady thing Flynn did.) After receiving the pardon, Flynn tweeted a Bible verse about God rescuing warriors:
Trump had hired Flynn in 2016, despite Barack Obama’s warnings about the retired U.S. Army general, but Flynn only lasted only 22 days before being dismissed. At the time, Trump claimed he was firing Flynn for supposedly lying to Vice-President Mike Pence about the same Kislyak conversation — a lie that Pence then repeated on television. That revelation led to the FBI grilling Flynn to see if he would repeat the lie again, which he did. After firing him, Trump took a sympathetic tone toward Flynn, asking then-FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into him. Comey did not do so, and Trump infamously fired him that May.
And Flynn, who had initially cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, became defiant. He eventually hired Sidney Powell, now infamous for her involvement in 2020 election cases, who argued that her client had been entrapped despite his guilty plea. Many Trump allies have insisted that the general did nothing wrong and deserves presidential clemency. His most influential defender, beyond Trump himself, is Attorney General William Barr, who took the extraordinary step of attempting to withdraw the charges against Flynn that had previously been brought by the Justice Department, in what looked like a personal favor to the president. Barr’s brazen efforts faced significant skepticism from a federal judge, and the matter was still ongoing when Trump suddenly put an end to it on Wednesday. It is likely the case will be vacated given Flynn’s pardon.