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Trump praise of ‘tormented’ Flynn raises pardon speculation

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In this Monday, June 24, 2019, file photo, Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, departs a federal courthouse after a hearing, in Washington.

Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday voiced strong support for his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, raising speculation that a pardon may be coming after Flynn’s lawyers disclosed internal FBI documents they claim show the FBI was trying to entrap him.

Trump has long said he is considering pardoning Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in early 2017 about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. The president spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning retweeting supportive statements and a video Flynn tweeted of an American flag flapping in the wind.

He told reporters at the White House that he believed Flynn had been “tormented” and that, following the release of the documents, “now we have to see what’s going to happen.”

“They came at him with 15 buses and he’s standing in the middle of the highway. What they did to this man,” Trump said, without specifying what he meant. “They tormented him. They destroyed him. But he’s going to come back.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called into Fox News Channel to react to the release of the FBI documents, saying, “if true, it is extremely troubling.”

“If all this proves to be true, you will have, certainly, a major, major error on the part of top leadership at the FBI, which could well warrant additional charges against them,” he said.

Lawyers for Flynn released internal FBI emails and handwritten notes on Wednesday documenting internal correspondence among FBI officials before Flynn’s interview with the bureau. They contend the documents bolster their allegations that Flynn was set up to lie when he was questioned at the White House three years ago. The notes show the officials grappling with how best to approach Flynn, how much information to provide him during the interview and what to do if he made a false statement.

Flynn, who was among the first of the president’s aides charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, is now seeking to withdraw his guilty plea and makes broad assertions of law enforcement misconduct. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan has rejected many of the defense arguments but has yet to rule on whether Flynn can take back his guilty plea.

Meanwhile, a federal prosecutor from Missouri is reviewing the Justice Department’s handling of the case at the direction of Attorney General William Barr. The department said the notes were provided as part of that ongoing review.

It remains unclear what bearing the documents will have on the case or how significant the judge will determine them to be. But Flynn has emerged as something of a cause celebre in recent months for supporters of the president, who have rallied around the retired Army lieutenant general and seized on the findings of a harshly critical watchdog report on the Russia investigation to try to cast doubt on the entire probe.

Prosecutors haven’t filed anything in response to Wednesday’s action by Flynn’s lawyers. But Trump has made clear he is considering a pardon. Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway said on Fox on Thursday that it it would be up to Trump to make any announcement on a pardon, but called Flynn’s treatment a “disgrace.”

In FBI emails dated Jan. 23, 2017, the day before agents interviewed Flynn at the White House, officials pondered at what point in the conversation Flynn should be reminded that it is against the law to lie to the FBI — at the outset of the conversation or after he makes a suspected false statement. His lawyers have said he was never given such a warning.

Also released was a page of handwritten FBI notes, dated the following day, in which an official appears to recap an internal debate inside the bureau about the interview.

“What’s our goal? Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” the notes say.

At another point, the notes say, “If we get him to admit to breaking the Logan Act, give facts to DoJ and have them decide.” That is a reference to a centuries-old, esoteric law that makes it a crime for a private citizen to conduct foreign policy with another government.

The notes also say: “If we’re seen as playing games, WH will be furious. Protect our institution by not playing games.”

The handwritten notes bear the initials “EP,” which is likely a reference to E.W. Priestap, the senior FBI official who in the summer of 2016 approved the opening of an investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about having discussed sanctions against Russia during the presidential transition period with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador at the time. Flynn provided such extensive cooperation that prosecutors said he was entitled to a sentence of probation instead of prison.

But his sentencing hearing one year later was abruptly cut short after Flynn, following a stern rebuke from Sullivan, asked to be able to continue cooperating and earn credit toward a more lenient sentence.

Since then, Flynn has hired new attorneys — including Sidney Powell, a conservative commentator and outspoken critic of Mueller’s investigation — who have taken a more adversarial stance to the government.

The lawyers have accused prosecutors of withholding documents and evidence they said was favorable to the case and repeatedly noted that one of the two agents who interviewed Flynn was fired from the FBI for having sent derogatory text messages about Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump also tweeted Thursday about his longtime political adviser Roger Stone, who was convicted last year as part of the Russia investigation and is awaiting a date to surrender to federal prison.

“Does anybody really believe that Roger Stone, a man whose house was raided early in the morning by 29 gun toting FBI Agents (with Fake News @CNN closely in toe), was treated fairly,” he asked, adding: “Same scammers as General Flynn!”