A Washington judge has put on ice the U.S. Justice Department’s extraordinary move to drop its prosecution of former White House national security advisor Michael Flynn.
The stalling came after an outside group calling themselves “Watergate Prosecutors” sought to intervene in the case.
Judge Emmet Sullivan said in a court filing that he would open the case for independent “friend of the court” or “amicus curiae” briefs after Attorney General Bill Barr’s stunning reversal of the three-year-old case, which came even though Flynn had pleaded guilty twice.
Sullivan said he anticipates individuals and organisations would like to have their say on Barr’s controversial move, which critics charged was doing President Donald Trump’s political bidding.
While Sullivan did not indicate whom he expected to supply comments, Flynn’s lawyers said that a group dubbing itself “Watergate Prosecutors” had told the court it was preparing to submit its view on the case.
Jill Wine-Banks, who served on the staff of the special prosecutor investigating Richard Nixon in the early 1990s, said she and 15 other attorneys with whom she worked at that time were behind the planned submission.
She called it “an effort to save democracy and the Justice Department,” noting that now that the department was siding with Flynn, there was no one in the court presenting the people’s case.
“The Watergate investigation led to the filing of criminal charges against two former attorneys general for corruptly abusing their official powers in order to interfere with the objective, professional investigation and prosecution of federal crimes,” the group said in a statement.
“The parallels and the contrasts between the Watergate affair and the present situation now before this Court are striking.”
Flynn, who had expected to see a quick end to the case after Barr’s move, registered a strong objection in a separate filing.
“The self-proclaimed collection of ‘Watergate Prosecutors’ has no cognizable special interest” in the case, his lawyers wrote.
Flynn, a retired three star general and former defense intelligence chief, pleaded guilty in a plea deal in December 2017 to one count of lying to the FBI about his secret negotiations with the Russian ambassador to Washington ahead of Trump taking office.
The case was a cornerstone of the sprawling 22-month investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Moscow’s meddling in the US election.
The case was headed toward sentencing when late last year Flynn asked to withdraw his plea.
Before that could be ruled on, Barr decided last week to undermine his own prosecutors and drop the charges, a near-unheard of move.
“Our duty we think, is to dismiss the case,” Barr said.
“A crime cannot be established here. They did not have a basis for the counterintelligence investigation against Flynn.”
The decision was seen as deeply political. It came after Trump had repeatedly labelled the FBI agents and Justice Department prosecutors who went after Flynn corrupt and politically motivated.
On Tuesday, more than 2,100 former Justice Department officials had signed a letter calling for Barr’s resignation.
They accused him of distorting the law and “doing the president’s personal bidding rather than acting in the public interest.”