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Trump grants Michael Flynn a full pardon for lying to the FBI in Russian probe

President Donald Trump on Wednesday pardoned his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Devlin Barrett, of the Washington Post, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the circumstances surrounding Flynn's conviction and pardon.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now for a closer look at President Trump's high-profile pardon, I'm joined by Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post. He's been covering the Flynn case from the beginning.

    So, Devlin Barrett, thank you for joining us.

    Remind us about the origins of this. Michael Flynn was President Trump's first pick to be his national security adviser. And things unraveled very quickly after that.

  • Devlin Barrett:

    Very quickly, in fact, so quickly that, when the FBI agents went to interview Michael Flynn about his conversation with the Russian ambassador in January of 2017, movers were still unpacking boxes in the White House around them. It was that early in the administration. It was the very first days.

    And the agents asked him about those conversations. And what happened was that Flynn denied discussing sanctions, denied discussing a couple of other issues.

    But the reality was that Kislyak, the ambassador's conversations were captured on wiretaps, FBI wiretaps. And so they knew the truth of those conversations. And it was, I think, frustrating and alarming to a lot of law enforcement officials that Flynn was not forthcoming about those conversations.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, if there — if the evidence was so clear that he did something that he said he hadn't done, why wasn't — what took this case so long? Why has it been dragging out as long as it has?

  • Devlin Barrett:

    Well, it's a three-year legal saga.

    And it began almost three years today. We're nearly at the three-year anniversary of Flynn's guilty plea.

    And what happened was, he pled guilty and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Bob Mueller. And that was a big moment in that investigation, because you had someone in the inner circle who was going to tell prosecutors about what he knew about the conversations by Trump and his close advisers.

    But what happened as time went on is, he became — Flynn became something of a cause celebre on the right, and he became a focus of a lot of anger toward the FBI that, in the mind of many conservatives, the FBI was targeting Flynn and others around Trump unfairly.

    And so what happened is, after his cooperation was largely over and done with, he got new lawyers and decided to fight the case and try to rescind his guilty plea. And that set off a very long battle that really hasn't been resolved, although the pardon may end up resolving it on its own.

    So, that created this long court battle that is still ongoing, up until we saw the announcement of the pardon today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As you point out, a long and messy saga.

    To what extent, Devlin Barrett, does this undermine the Justice Department and its entire investigation here, including the Russia investigation?

  • Devlin Barrett:

    Well, we're told by folks who wanted to see the charges, the case against Flynn dropped entirely, meaning folks who are ultimately sympathetic to Flynn's arguments, that they would rather have let the court process play out, in the hopes that a judge would agree with them that they are entitled and allowed to drop the case.

    The pardon short-circuits that. I don't think the judge will just accept that quietly. I expect the judge in the case will have something to say on the subject no matter what.

    But it really does speak to the difficulties within the Justice Department and how these political cases, these cases involving President Trump, the cases involving the White House have really created deep fissures inside the department and a degree of distrust between the career officials and the political officials that is going to be one of the big challenges for the incoming Biden administration to solve.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's interesting you say that the president's pardon may not be the end of this.

    I think, typically, when a president grants a pardon, that's the end of the line. Are you saying something — what are you saying could happen now?

  • Devlin Barrett:

    To be clear, I think — I suspect the judge in the case will not accept the pardon silently. I think the judge will still speak to his understanding of what happened here and what should have happened here.

    But, look, a pardon is a pardon. And the president's power to pardon is very broad. The case — Flynn's legal jeopardy may well be over with this. I do think, however, to Yamiche's point, we could very well see a bunch more pardons.

    If you look at the statement that the White House put out this evening about this pardon, you could apply that same rationale to the investigation, prosecution and guilty pleas of plenty of other folks around the president, including Paul Manafort, including George Papadopoulos.

    If you follow that logic, there are probably other pardons coming before he leaves office.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In other words, watch this space.

  • Devlin Barrett:

    Exactly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post, thank you very much.

  • Devlin Barrett:

    Thanks for having me.

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