President Barack Obama lambasted the Justice Department’s abandonment of criminal charges against Micheal Flynn as unprecedented, but his Justice Department did the same thing in another highly politicized criminal case.
In April 2009, then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. pulled the plug on the prosecution of Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, a liberal Republican who sided with Democrats on key issues including climate change and abortion.
The comparisons between Mr. Stevens and Flynn are striking. Both men faced the same criminal charges of making false statements, the same judge, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, handled both cases, and each had their criminal prosecution undone by a handwritten note that was buried by federal prosecutors.
Still, in a call Friday with thousands of supporters listening, Mr. Obama railed that Attorney General William P. Barr undermined the “rule of law” by dropping the charges against Flynn, who previously served as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser.
“There is no precedent that anybody can find for somebody who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free,” Mr. Obama said.
Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University, said it was “curious” that Mr. Obama forgot the Stevens case.
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“The Justice Department has dismissed cases in the past including the Stevens case. That was requested by President Obama’s own Attorney General Eric Holder for the same reason: misconduct by prosecutors. It was done before the same judge, Judge Sullivan. How is that for precedent,” he wrote on Twitter.
Even Flynn’s attorney, Sidney Powell, brought up the parallels between Stevens and Flynn shortly after Mr. Obama’s comments.
“Guessing Judge Sullivan remembers dismissing the bogus and corrupted prosecution of Senator Ted Stevens for the same reasons on motion by Eric Holder — then the new AG for Obama,” she wrote on Twitter.
Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Although the Stevens prosecution began under President George W. Bush, conservatives at the time grumbled the case may have been initiated by left-leaning prosecutors looking to flip his Senate seat.
Mr. Holder dropped the criminal charges against Mr. Stevens nearly seven months after he was convicted by a federal jury. He cited allegations that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence.
Federal prosecutors accused Mr. Stevens of failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts from an oil company executive, including home repairs and a deal in which Mr. Stevens swapped a 1964 Ford Mustang for a new 1999 Land Rover Discovery.
They also accused him of lying to the FBI investigators.
Mr. Stevens was convicted a week before the 2008 elections, ruining a bid to retain his Senate seat. He died two years later in an airplane crash.
An FBI whistleblower came forward in February 2009, alleging prosecutors and FBI agents conspired to conceal evidence that could have exonerated Mr. Stevens.
Among the evidence buried by prosecutors was a handwritten note Stevens wrote to the oil company executive requesting a bill for the home renovations that showed he wanted it done ethically.
As the case against Mr. Stevens began to crumble, Mr. Holder had seen enough and threw in the towel.
“I have concluded that certain information should have been provided to the defense for use at trial,” he said.
Mr. Barr’s statement on dismissing the Flynn case mirrored the comments by his predecessor nearly a decade earlier.
“Once I saw all the facts and some of the tactics used by the FBI in this instance and also the legal problems in this case, it was an easy decision [to drop the charges]” he said.
Ultimately Judge Sullivan appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the Justice Department’s handling of the Stevens case. In 2012, the prosecutor issued a blistering report, detailing multiple failings by the FBI and federal prosecutors.
Some of Mr. Trump’s allies have been whispering their hope that Judge Sullivan also appoints a prosecutor in the Flynn case.
Last week, Mr. Barr dropped the case after two bombshell court documents filed earlier this month raised questions about whether federal prosecutors had turned over evidence favorable to Flynn.
The concealed documents included a handwritten note by a top FBI official questioning whether the goal of interviewing Flynn was to get him to lie so he could be prosecuted. An internal FBI document also publicly revealed that the bureau sought to close the case against Flynn, but anti-Trump FBI agent Peter Strzok pushed to keep it open.