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Trump Pardons Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Trump has issued a pardon to his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and then recanted. This ends a years-long saga, which NPR's Ryan Lucas has been long following. And he joins us now.

Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: All right. So the president's pardon for Flynn just happened this afternoon. What do we know at this point?

LUCAS: Well, the president announced this on Twitter, as he is wont to do. He says in the tweet that it is a great honor to announce that he has granted a full pardon to Flynn. He sends his congratulations to Flynn and his family and says, quote, "I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving." I will say this pardon is not a surprise. This is something that was widely expected. And Flynn's lawyer actually had even acknowledged in court this fall that she had actually indeed spoken with the president about a possible pardon.

CHANG: OK. Can you just give us a mini refresher course for a moment? It feels like this Flynn case has been going on and on forever. Remind us what Flynn was originally prosecuted for.

LUCAS: This has been a bit of a legal saga, no doubt. Flynn was the only member of the Trump administration, actually, who was charged as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. He pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador at the time, Sergey Kislyak. Those were conversations that took place during the transition period - so after Trump had been elected but before he took office. Flynn pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with investigators, and he did so extensively.

CHANG: Right. OK. So he cooperated with Mueller's team but has now been pardoned. But a federal judge in D.C. is still weighing his case, right? Did I get that right?

LUCAS: That's right. This has been a long and winding road to get to this point. Flynn was actually in court almost two years ago now for sentencing, but that was abruptly put off to allow Flynn to complete his cooperation on a couple of other cases. A few months after that, Flynn changed his lawyers - dumped his previous legal team, brought on a new legal team - and he completely changed his tune after that. He proclaimed his innocence and said that he was set up by the FBI, that he was entrapped. He even went so far as to try to withdraw his guilty plea.

But before all of that could play out, Attorney General William Barr moved to drop the department's case against Flynn. Barr said that Flynn never should have been prosecuted in the first place. The presiding judge, as you mentioned before, refused to drop this case immediately. He said that he wanted to take a closer look at the department's stated reasons for this. Ultimately, as of today, the judge still has not granted that motion to dismiss. He is still weighing what to do in that case.

Now, naturally, it's a moot point. The president has acted. He's taken political responsibility for this. And Flynn, of course, now has his pardon in hand.

CHANG: Right. Well, overall, how would you say this case has been handled by the Department of Justice?

LUCAS: This has been a difficult case for the Justice Department. It has been caught up, from the beginning, essentially, in the bitter political battle that we've seen take place in Washington. Flynn, the president and his allies portray Flynn here as a victim of the Justice Department, of the FBI, of what the president would call a witch hunt, a hoax. Meanwhile, the attorney general's decision, which was highly unusual to intervene in this case and to try to drop it after Flynn had pleaded guilty, caused an uproar. And critics said this looks a lot like a political favor to a friend of the president.

CHANG: Well, this is, of course, the first pardon that we have seen from President Trump since the election. Should we be anticipating many more?

LUCAS: This is the first of what we expect to be a number of pardons, yes. There are a number of people who the president is friends with who could expect a pardon. Some top names we're looking at - former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, the president's former political adviser Steve Bannon, who is facing federal charges in New York. There is also, of course, the possibility that the president could pardon his family preemptively and the possibility for the president to try to pardon himself before he leaves office.

CHANG: That is NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.

Thank you, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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