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FBI director orders internal review of Flynn investigation

Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security advisor
Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security advisor, after a court appearance in Washington on Sept. 10.
(Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray has ordered an internal review into possible misconduct in the investigation of former Trump administration national security advisor Michael Flynn, the bureau said Friday.

The after-action review will examine whether any current employees engaged in misconduct during the course of the investigation and evaluate whether any improvements in FBI policies and procedures need to be made.

In announcing the review, the FBI, a frequent target of President Trump’s criticism, is stepping into a case that has become a rallying cry for Trump supporters — and doing so right as the Justice Department tries to counter criticism that its recent decision to dismiss the prosecution was a politically motivated effort to do the president’s bidding.

The announcement adds to the internal scrutiny over one of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s signature prosecutions during his investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. It underscores how a case that was seemingly resolved by Flynn’s 2017 guilty plea has instead given way to a protracted, politically charged debate about FBI and Justice Department tactics during that investigation and the Russia probe more broadly.

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The unusual review will be led by the bureau’s Inspection Division, which conducts internal investigations into potential employee misconduct. Trump has recently been sharply critical of the FBI, and suggested earlier this month that Wray’s fate as director could be in jeopardy. An FBI official said Friday that the review had been contemplated for some time and that the FBI has cooperated with multiple Russia-related internal inquiries.

Although the FBI does not have authority on its own to bring a criminal prosecution, the after-action review will look at whether any current employees engaged in misconduct deserving of discipline. The division cannot take disciplinary action against former employees.

Beijing’s move to tighten its grip on Hong Kong drew swift condemnation from U.S. officials as they weighed options for new sanctions.

It is not clear how many officials involved in the Flynn investigation remain with the FBI. Several prominent officials have since left the bureau, including former Director James B. Comey, former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former agent Peter Strzok, who interviewed Flynn.

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The FBI did not say what sort of potential misconduct it was looking for in the investigation of Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to agents about conversations with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition period. But the case has long been a subject of outrage for Trump and his allies, who have alleged that Flynn was effectively set up to lie when the FBI questioned him at the White House in January 2017.

Those concerns were given new life earlier this month when the Justice Department moved to dismiss the case and identified a series of what it says were problems in the way Flynn was investigated.

The department’s motion to dismiss alleged that agents had insufficient basis to interview Flynn in the first place, especially since the FBI was prepared earlier in the month to close out its investigation into Flynn after finding no crime. It says any incorrect statements he may have made during the interview were not material to the underlying investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign.

Atty. Gen. William Barr, who earlier this year overruled the sentencing recommendation of prosecutors in the case of Trump associate Roger Stone, defended the Flynn decision and said in a television interview that he was doing the “law’s bidding” and correcting what he thought was an injustice.

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The Justice Department noted that he was acting on the recommendation of U.S. Atty. Jeff Jensen of St. Louis, who was assigned by Barr to review the Flynn case.

The case against Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security advisor, entered uncertain legal territory after the Justice Department moved to drop the charges.

But the move outraged former law enforcement officials involved in the case, who said the Justice Department had ignored the seriousness of the false statements that Flynn admitted making, as well as the gravity of their national security concerns about Flynn’s interactions with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

Flynn admitted in his guilty plea that he lied about having asked Kislyak to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions imposed against Russia by the Obama administration for election interference. Obama administration Justice Department officials subsequently warned the Trump White House about that conversation, saying public misrepresentations about it left Flynn vulnerable to being blackmailed by Russia.

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The request to dismiss the case has triggered its own internal back-and-forth in the courts.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan has assigned a retired judge to argue against the Justice Department’s position. Flynn’s attorneys have asked a federal appeals court to order Sullivan to dismiss the case, and to reassign any future court proceedings to another judge. An appeals court panel, meanwhile, has asked Sullivan to respond to the defense request.

The FBI said that in addition to its own internal review, it has cooperated and been transparent with multiple inquiries assigned by Barr, including lending its own agents to the Jensen probe. The FBI has also cooperated with an investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation, led by U.S. Atty. John Durham of Connecticut.

“Director Wray authorized this additional level of review now that the Department of Justice, through Mr. Jensen’s work, has developed sufficient information to determine how to proceed in the Flynn case,” the FBI statement said. “However, Mr. Jensen’s work will continue to take priority, and the Director has further ordered the Inspection Division to coordinate closely with Mr. Jensen and ensure that the review does not interfere with or impede his efforts.”


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