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 in federal court 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 nominated by President Donald Trump in 2017, to conduct the review.
The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly, said Jensen was selected weeks ago. As part of his review, Jensen will look into concerns raised by Flynn’s defense team about the investigation of the former Army general.
Flynn and his attorneys have sought to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming the FBI and federal prosecutors engaged in misconduct. But Jensen’s review is not to be considered an attempt to undermine Flynn’s prosecution, the official said.
“This should not be taken as a signal that there is an investigation of the prosecutors. They are working together,” the official said.
Flynn’s case was one of the first criminal charges brought by former special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties to the Trump campaign.
Barr’s decision to review the case, first reported by The New York Times, caps off a contentious week for the Justice Department. The department already faces allegations of succumbing to political pressure from Trump; the development in the Flynn case is certain to raise more questions about the agency’s independence.
The Justice Department unleashed 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 developments have placed the Justice Department’s leadership, particularly Barr, under a harsh spotlight. Democrats have accused Barr of meddling in criminal cases for political purposes and have called him to testify before Congress.
With a new prosecution team assigned to Stone’s case and Flynn’s prosecution under review, it was not immediately clear how many other cases would be pulled for additional scrutiny.
Flynn 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.
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Flynn’s case has been stalled in federal court for two years as his defense team alleges he 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. In court filings this week, prosecutors said Flynn has failed to identify any specific government misconduct that would call for his case to be dismissed.
Flynn’s attorneys did not respond to calls seeking comment Friday.
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 Jensen to review the case comes as the Justice Department conducts another politically charged inquiry into the origins of the Russia probe, which cast a cloud over the first years of the Trump 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 review.
Jensen served as an FBI agent for 10 years and as an assistant U.S. attorney for another 10 years before going into private practice in 2009. Trump nominated him to be St. Louis’ top federal prosecutor in July 2017. He was confirmed by the Senate in October 2017.
Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked Barr to make Justice Department employees available for interviews as part of the committee’s investigation into the origins of the Russia probe and the FBI’s surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
In a letter to Barr on Friday, Graham listed several FBI and Justice Department officials the committee wants to interview.
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.