By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney William Barr has tapped the top federal prosecutor in St. Louis to review the Justice Department’s politically-charged case against President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a department official said on Friday.
Jeffrey Jensen, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, will be working alongside the case’s lead prosecutor Brandon Van Grack, a move that comes a month after Flynn told the court he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The news of Barr’s decision to tap an outside prosecutor on the Flynn case caps an extraordinary week at the Justice Department.
On Tuesday, the department lightened its sentencing recommendation for Trump political ally Roger Stone after criticism from the president that an earlier recommendation for seven to nine years in prison was too harsh.
The move prompted all four career prosecutors on the case to withdraw and one of them to quit the government entirely.
Barr on Thursday tried to beat back critics’ concerns that he was doing the president’s political bidding by intervening to help Stone, and said the president’s constant tweets on criminal cases were undercutting his ability to do his job.
The very next day, prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C. revealed they would not be pressing charges against former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a frequent punching bag of Trump’s, over allegations he misled investigators about his communications with the media.
Barr’s decision to bring in Jensen on the Flynn case, however, could potentially undercut his efforts to do damage control after Trump’s flurry of tweets on the Stone case.
The Justice Department official stressed that Jensen’s role was not to oversee career prosecutors’ work on the Flynn case, but to work alongside them.
Jensen is assisting the department and prosecution team “to get a complete and thorough understanding of the facts and the record in a complicated case,” the person told Reuters, speaking anonymously in order to discuss sensitive personnel matters.
Flynn pleaded guilty in late 2017 to lying to the FBI about interactions with Russia’s ambassador to the United States in the weeks before Trump took office.
He was supposed to help cooperate with the government as part of his deal. But he later switched lawyers and tactics, arguing that prosecutors in the case had violated his rights and tricked him into lying about his December 2016 conversations with Sergei Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador in Washington.
The department has repeatedly denied the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, and U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected all of Flynn’s claims in December and set a sentencing date.
Shortly after that, Flynn filed the motion to withdraw his plea.
Given all of the allegations that the case was mishandled, Jensen was brought in to help “review the whole thing, soup to nuts,” the person said.
Jensen’s involvement in the Flynn case was reported earlier by the New York Times.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Tom Brown)