President Donald Trump has pardoned his former national security advisor Michael Flynn, ending a years-long prosecution that saw Flynn twice plead guilty to lying to the FBI and then withdraw his plea, before the Justice Department stepped in to dismiss his case.
The pardon, in the waning weeks of Trump's single term, is part of a broader effort by the out-going president to undo the results of a Russia investigation that shadowed his administration and yielded criminal charges against a half-dozen associates. The Flynn pardon comes just months after the president commuted the sentence of another associate, Roger Stone, days before he was to report to prison.
A Justice Department official said the department was not consulted on the pardon and learned Wednesday of the plan.
But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noted that the president has the legal power to pardon Flynn.
The move is likely to energise supporters who have taken up Flynn as a cause célèbre and rallied around the retired Army lieutenant-general as the victim of what they claim was an unfair prosecution, even though Flynn twice admitted guilt.
Trump has repeatedly spoken warmly about Flynn and, in an indication of his personal interest in his fate, asked then-FBI Director James Comey in February 2017 to end a criminal investigation into the national security advisor.
Meanwhile, Democrats have lambasted the pardon as undeserved and unprincipled. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it “an act of grave corruption and a brazen abuse of power," while Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said a “pardon by Trump does not erase” the truth of Flynn's guilty plea, “no matter how Trump and his allies try to suggest otherwise”.
“The president's enablers have constructed an elaborate narrative in which Trump and Flynn are victims and the Constitution is subject to the whims of the president," House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler said in a statement. “Americans soundly rejected this nonsense when they voted out President Trump.”
Speaking to RFI, author and political strategist Gérald Olivier says he believes there is nothing wrong with the move.
GO: I don't think there is any abuse of power here. And actually, I read that there were comments made by officials within the Justice Department that thought that Donald Trump's move was perfectly appropriate and within presidential powers.
I think what it indicates, as a by-product of that decision, is that he has admitted that he won't be president past 21 January. And so he is making the final moves that most presidents do when they're about to leave office. And I'm not a jurist. I'm not a legal expert.
But from what I've read, there was nothing inappropriate about that decision. And there was a lot of very political underlining in the Flynn's case. And I think that explains Nancy Pelosi's reaction.
RFI: But there's no such thing as a free lunch in Washington. What's in it for Trump?
GO: There is a motivation, which is getting back at Obama and getting back at Biden, getting back at Former FBI Chief James Comey. We know what he thought of the Mueller investigation. He called it the Russia hoax ... by pardoning Michael Flynn, he's doing something for somebody who was loyal to him.
And at the same time, he is giving much more than a signal, by letting the prior administration know what he actually thinks of their behaviour. And he is insisting on that idea that he was victim of a form of conspiracy led by the former government and the prior administration, into his campaign to undermine his presidency.
RFI: What more do you think we can expect in the fading days of the Trump administration?
GO: We can expect that he is going to try to polish his legacy, besides pardons. He has already pardoned Roger stone, another of his loyal defendants that found himself entangled in in the ramifications of the Justice Department.
He'll be trying to protect himself in advance, and I'm afraid for Donald Trump. I believe that once he is no longer president, he'll find himself the object of many legal battles, especially from the New York Southern District, not regarding his presidency, but regarding his business deals.
So he may try to shore up his position in that regard. And another thing is simply going to try to work on those vaccines to leave a legacy regarding the pandemic, to prove that it was not as badly handled as the Democrats have tried to paint it.
RFI: And what do you think a Biden administration will mean for Franco-American relations?
GO: I think they'll be slightly friendlier I mean, everything began very nicely with Macron. He wanted to be friends with Trump and Trump needed friends. So they got along at the very first meeting, and then it turned out that they had different worldviews and actually diverging interests.
Biden is going to be much more of multilateralist. And so, number one, he's going to send John Kerry to put the US back into the Paris Climate accord, that's going to be a point where France and him are going to be on the very same page.
Second, I believe that Joe Biden is going to try to resume a form of dialogue with Iran, and to reinstitute a version of the multinational deal which also involved France. So that should also bring their relations together.
The point of contention is going to be Biden's attitude towards Turkey. Because Turkey is a member of Nato, and Turkey's attitude regarding Libya, regarding the conflict in Azerbaijan and Armenia lately, regarding its position towards the maritime situation versus Greece, bringing tension around the Mediterranean and within Nato.
And Trump was a defender of a strong man [Recep Yayip] Erdogan. I'm not sure that Biden will be, so we'll have to see how that turns out. But I think that in the short term relationship should be warmer or at least easier because Macron and Biden both believe in multilateralism.
You can listen to the full interview on: https://soundcloud.com/radiofranceinternationale/political-strategist-gerald-olivier-on-michael-flynn-donald-trump-and-abuse-of-power-accusations