Donald Trump on Wednesday issued a pardon to Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser who admitted lying about contacts with a Russian diplomat, the president’s first grant of clemency to an ally since losing re-election.
The pardon is the latest sign that Mr Trump has accepted his time in the White House is drawing to a close, despite his insistence in a telephone call to a public gathering of Pennsylvania Republicans earlier in the day that he had won the election.
“It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon. Congratulations to @GenFlynn and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.
Mr Flynn had been prosecuted by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of an investigation into links between Mr Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. Earlier this year, Mr Trump’s attorney-general, William Barr, moved to dismiss the case, saying Mr Flynn had been unjustly investigated.
Mr Trump’s decision to pardon Mr Flynn, who was once head of the Pentagon’s defence intelligence agency before being dismissed by then-president Barack Obama, has sparked fears that the outgoing president will wield his pardon power to help close associates in a range of cases.
Among the president’s allies who have been targeted by federal prosecutors are Steve Bannon, a former White House aide who is facing trial on fraud charges, and Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump’s lawyer, who has been under investigation by the Manhattan US attorney’s office.
Mr Trump may also grant pardons to others caught up in the Russia probe such as Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman who was released from prison because of the pandemic, and Roger Stone, the Republican operative whose sentence the president has already commuted this year.
“This pardon is part of a pattern,” said Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House judiciary committee, citing Mr Stone’s commutation. “We may see it again before President Trump leaves office. These actions are an abuse of power and fundamentally undermine the rule of law.”
Mr Trump is not the first president to issue controversial pardons as he prepares to leave office. Bill Clinton pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich and his own brother on his last day as president. George HW Bush, advised by Mr Barr, then also the attorney-general, pardoned several officials prosecuted for their roles in the Iran-Contra scandal.
But Mr Trump has used the lame-duck period of his administration like no president before, taking dramatic steps to contest his election loss and punishing perceived disloyalties, including the dismissal of Mark Esper, the defence secretary who refused this year to support using federal troops to quell anti-racism protests.
The case against Mr Flynn, a retired army intelligence officer, stemmed from his conversations with the Russian ambassador in Washington during the transition to Mr Trump’s administration. He had asked Russia to be restrained in its response to sanctions imposed by the Obama administration for election interference.
Mr Flynn admitted in his case that he later lied to Trump administration officials and FBI agents who interviewed him at the White House about the calls by claiming that he had not made any request about the sanctions.
“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI,” Mr Trump tweeted in December 2017 after Mr Flynn pleaded guilty, though he insisted Mr Flynn’s conversations were lawful.
But earlier this year, Mr Flynn sought to withdraw his guilty plea after appointing a new lawyer, Sidney Powell.
Ms Powell more recently served as an election lawyer for Mr Trump and pushed baseless conspiracy theories about voter machines, before being dropped from the president’s election legal team.
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Mr Barr also asked the court to dismiss the Flynn case, noting that the FBI had failed to follow proper procedure for interviewing White House officials. The dismissal request, which became bogged down in litigation after the judge questioned the justice department’s sudden about-face, is still pending.
“Trump has once again abused the pardon power to reward Michael Flynn, who chose loyalty to Trump over loyalty to his country,” said Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee.
“There is no doubt that a president has broad power to confer pardons, but when they are deployed to insulate himself, his family, and his associates from criminal investigation, it is a corruption of the framers’ intent,” he added.