When the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Attorney General William Barr decided they would drop charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on Thursday, they apparently neglected to factor in that the federal judge in the case will have the final say, and could still choose to send Flynn to prison for the crimes he pleaded guilty to in 2017.
Reuters reports that U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan may well be on the verge of thumbing his nose at the DOJ and refusing to accept Barr’s decision. If he does, Flynn would likely be headed to prison:
“The judge is unlikely to sign off on the request as a pro forma matter, said Channing Phillips, the former acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia during the Obama administration, adding that with Sullivan ‘nothing is pro forma.’
“’I can guarantee you, he is going to question the prosecutors,’ Phillips said in a phone interview. ‘He is going to want to understand exactly the basis for this motion … You have a new attorney general. You have a new U.S. attorney. You have new prosecutors who take a different position. But the facts haven’t changed.'”
Judge Sullivan has already made it clear that he doesn’t think very highly of Flynn and his crimes, remarking in December 2018:
“I am not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense.
“Arguably, you sold your country out.”
The Reuters report squares with comments made Thursday by MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace, who had spoken with three former DOJ officials that also predicted Judge Sullivan would not look favorably on Barr’s decision to give Flynn a free pass:
“So, it may not go down the way Attorney General Barr and Donald Trump want it to.”
Judge Sullivan owes no loyalty to Donald Trump or William Barr. He was appointed by Bill Clinton and has lifetime tenure. That means he can be the independent overseer of this matter that’s missing inside the Trump administration.
Michael Flynn may feel vindicated and relieved today, but soon enough he’s going to be standing before a judge who is clearly disgusted by what he did.
Barr, Trump, and Flynn may think what they’ve done is a fait accompli. But only Judge Sullivan gets to make that determination.