Appeals court keeps Flynn case alive, won’t order dismissal

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A federal appeals court in Washington declined Monday to order the dismissal of the Michael Flynn  prosecution, permitting a judge to scrutinize the Justice Department’s request to dismiss its case against President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser.

The decision keeps the case at least temporarily alive and rebuffs efforts by both Flynn’s lawyers and the Justice Department to force the prosecution to be dropped without further inquiry from the judge, who has for months declined to dismiss it. The ruling is the latest development in a criminal case that has taken unusual twists and turns over the last year and prompted a separation of powers tussle involving a veteran federal judge and the Trump administration.

In a separate ruling Monday, a three-judge panel of the same appeals court again threw out a lawsuit by House Democrats to compel former White House counsel Don McGahn to appear before a congressional committee.

The Flynn conflict arose in May when the Justice Department moved to dismiss the prosecution despite Flynn’s own guilty plea to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition period.

But U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who had upbraided Flynn for his behavior at a 2018 court appearance, signaled his skepticism at the government’s unusual motion. He refused to dismiss the case and instead scheduled a hearing and appointed a retired federal judge to argue against the Justice Department’s position. That former judge, John Gleeson, challenged the motives  behind the department’s dismissal request and called it a “gross abuse” of prosecutorial power.

Flynn’s lawyers sought to bypass Sullivan and obtain an appeals court order that would have required the case’s immediate dismissal. They argued that Sullivan had overstepped his bounds by scrutinizing a dismissal request that both sides, the defense and the Justice Department, were in agreement about and that the case was effectively moot once prosecutors decided to abandon it.

At issue before the court was whether Sullivan could be forced to grant the Justice Department’s dismissal request without even holding a hearing into the basis for the motion.

“We have no trouble answering that question in the negative,” the court wrote in an unsigned opinion for the eight judges in the majority.

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