Dirty Dozen: The 12 revelations that sunk Mueller's case against Flynn
After a prescient 2017 tip from inside the FBI, a slow drip of revelations exposed the deep problems with the Flynn prosecution.
Shortly after my colleague Sara Carter and I began reporting in 2017 on the possibility that the FBI was abusing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to spy on Americans during the Russia investigation, I received a call. It was an intermediary for someone high up in the intelligence community.
The story that source told me that day — initially I feared it may have been too spectacular to be true — was that FBI line agents had actually cleared former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn of any wrongdoing with Russia only to have the bureau's leadership hijack the process to build a case that he lied during a subsequent interview.
In fact, my notes show, the source used the words "concoct a 1001 false statements case" to describe the objections of career agents who did not believe Flynn had intended to deceive the FBI. A leak of a transcript of Flynn's call with the Russian ambassador was just part of a campaign, the source alleged.
The tip resulted in a two-and-a-half-year journey by myself and a small group of curious and determined journalists like Carter, Catherine Herridge, Greg Jarrett, Mollie Hemingway, Lee Smith, Byron York, and Kimberly Strassel to slowly peel back the onion.
The pursuit of the truth ended Thursday when the Justice Department formally asked a court to vacate Flynn's conviction and end the criminal case, acknowledging the former general had indeed been cleared by FBI agents and that the bureau did not have a lawful purpose when it interviewed him in January 2017.
Attorney General William Barr put it more bluntly in an interview Thursday: "They kept it open for the express purpose of trying to catch, to lay a perjury trap for General Flynn."
To understand just how dramatic a turnaround Thursday's action was, one has to go back to the headlines of 2017 fanned by the likes of The Washington Post, The New York Times, MSNBC, CNN and others and told by a host of former Obama administration officials and their Democratic allies in Congress.
Flynn was suspected of violating the Logan Act by talking with the Russian ambassador. He may have been compromised by a 2015 visit with Vladimir Putin at a Russia Today event. He lied to the FBI. He may have been an agent of Russia and involved in colluding to hijack the election. He betrayed his country.
All of that was alleged, it turns out, without proof. And then Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team pressured Flynn to plead guilty to falsely telling FBI agents that he did not discuss sanctions with Russia's ambassador. It turns out that wasn't true either.
A draft FBI report of the interview made public this week showed Flynn didn't deny it and instead suggested it was a possibility he did discuss sanctions and Russia's response to them.
Here are the 12 revelations that unraveled the false narrative and Mueller's prosecution of a 33-year military veteran:
1. Flynn's RT visit with Putin wasn't nefarious. In fact, it was cleared by his former employer, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and he received a defensive briefing before he went to Russia and debriefed with U.S. intelligence after he returned. https://thehill.com/opinion/white-house/423558-exculpatory-russia-evidence-about-mike-flynn-that-us-intel-kept-secret
2. Not a Russian agent. A Justice Department memo exonerated Flynn of Russia collusion on Jan. 30, 2017, nearly a year before he pled guilty. "The FBI did not believe Flynn was acting as an agent of Russia," a DOJ memo states. https://justthenews.com/accountability/political-ethics/fbis-russia-collusion-case-fell-apart-first-month-trump-presidency
3. Case closed memo. FBI agents wrote a memo to close the investigation of Flynn on Jan. 4, 2017, writing they found "no derogatory" evidence that Flynn committed a crime or posed a national security threat. FBI management then ordered the closure to be rescinded and pivoted toward trying lure Flynn into an interview. https://justthenews.com/accountability/russia-and-ukraine-scandals/fbi-found-no-derogatory-russia-evidence-flynn-planned
4. DOJ heartburn. Senior Justice officials expressed concern and alarm at the way the FBI was treating Flynn, including trying to interview him without the normally required notification to the Trump White House. Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates expressed significant concern that White House officials weren't being advised. “The interview was problematic from Yates’ perspective because, as a matter of protocol and courtesy, the White House Counsel’s Office should have been notified beforehand," a DOJ memo stated. https://justthenews.com/accountability/political-ethics/yates-other-obama-doj-officials-sounded-alarm-about-fbis-treatment
5. Logan Act threat wasn't real. DOJ officials immediately did not believe Flynn could realistically be prosecuted under the Logan Act for his conversations with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified he was told such a prosecution was a "long shot," and former Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord "said that upon learning of Flynn’s phone calls with Ambassador Kislyak, a Logan Act prosecution seemed like a stretch to her,” DOJ memos say. https://justthenews.com/accountability/political-ethics/yates-other-obama-doj-officials-sounded-alarm-about-fbis-treatment
6. Unequal treatment. James Comey bragged in a videotaped interview that he authorized the FBI to try to conduct a Flynn interview without the proper notifications and protocol, hoping to catch Flynn and the new Trump White House off guard. In other words, they didn't follow procedure or treat Flynn like others when it came to due process. Comey said the tactic was "something I probably wouldn't have done or maybe gotten away with in a more organized administration." https://www.foxnews.com/politics/comey-admits-decision-to-send-fbi-agents-to-interview-mike-flynn-was-not-standard
7. Disguising a required warning. FBI officials debated whether they could avoid, disguise or slip in the required FBI admonition against lying to agents at the start of Flynn's interview to keep him off guard. "It would be an easy way to just casually slip that in," FBI lawyer Lisa Page texted during the discussions. https://justthenews.com/accountability/russia-and-ukraine-scandals/breaking-fbi-notes-detail-effort-catch-flynn-lie-get-him.
8. "Playing games." Then-Assistant Director for Counterintelligence William Priestap wrote in handwritten notes about a concern that the bureau was "playing games" with the Flynn interview in an effort to get the national security adviser to lie so "we can prosecute him or get him fired." https://justthenews.com/accountability/russia-and-ukraine-scandals/breaking-fbi-notes-detail-effort-catch-flynn-lie-get-him
9. No deception. The FBI agents who interviewed Flynn, including Peter Strzok, did not believe Flynn intended to lie or be deceptive in his interview. "Strzok provided his view that Flynn appeared truthful during the interview," a memo from Mueller's team stated. https://justthenews.com/accountability/political-ethics/yates-other-obama-doj-officials-sounded-alarm-about-fbis-treatment
10. No actual denial. The FBI agents who interviewed Flynn indicated in a draft report that Flynn did not directly deny talking to Kislyak about sanctions, as he was accused by Mueller. Instead they noted he couldn't remember, wasn't sure and even conceded it was possible. Here's a direct quote from the draft interview memo. "FLYNN stated it was possible that he talked to KISLYAK on the issue, but if he did, he did not remember doing so." That's a far cry from a direct denial. https://int.nyt.com/data/documenthelper/6936-michael-flynn-motion-to-dismiss/fa06f5e13a0ec71843b6/optimized/full.pdf
11.) Interview Reports Edited. According to evidence DOJ disclosed this month, FBI officials subsequently edited the original Flynn interview report. After Strzok and fellow special agent Joe Pientka interviewed the Trump adviser, Pientka wrote the original interview report, known as a 302, then Strzok heavily edited it, so much so that he worried he was “trying not to completely re-write” the memo. Then FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who neither attended the interview nor is an agent, edited it again, according to the DOJ evidence. And then that version of the 302 was never given to the court. Instead, a substitute summary of the interview written months later was presented as official evidence, an act current and former FBI officials told me was extraordinarily unusual. https://www.wsj.com/articles/rewrite-in-flynns-case-shows-fbi-needs-reform-11588541993
12.) Evidence withheld. The biggest, and perhaps most troubling discovery, according to DOJ officials and Flynn's lawyers, was the majority of the above evidence was withheld from the courts and Flynn's legal team for years despite repeated orders that all exculpatory Brady materials, i.e. evidence of innocence, be produced.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan must still decide whether to accept the Justice Department's request to dismiss the charges. And then the judge must decide whether the prosecutors and agents in the case should face punishment.
In the meantime, Flynn lost three years of his life, his job, and his home and endured crushing legal bills and public shame. That what makes this dirty dozen list so egregious to critics of this investigation.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter's Notebook
Watch Attorney General William Barr's interview with CBS News Catherine Herridge where he alleges the FBI set a perjury trap.
Draft FBI 302 interview report of Gen. Flynn
DOJ motion to dismiss case
William Priestap's handwritten notes
FBI Text Messages preparing for Flynn interview
FBI memo recommending closure of Flynn case.