'Divorced from the facts': DOJ shoots down claims Strzok and the FBI trapped Flynn
T he Justice Department shot down claims by former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn’s lawyers that former FBI agent Peter Strzok and others at the bureau “set up” their client in a court filing.
Flynn’s attorneys alleged in a filing last week their client was trapped by Obama administration holdovers such as former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in an effort to hobble newly elected President Trump, that Strzok and the other agent “ambushed” Flynn, and that Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page manipulated the FBI interview notes so they could claim Flynn had lied when he hadn’t.
"Each contention is divorced from the facts," federal prosecutors said in a 46-page filing Friday.
The dispute, which has long simmered in pro-Trump circles, centers around an interview of Flynn by Strzok and an unnamed FBI investigator at the White House during the chaotic first days of the Trump administration in which Flynn allegedly misrepresented conversations he’d had with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about Russian sanctions and a vote at the United Nations. Flynn pleaded guilty later that year to lying to investigators during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and had cooperated with the government until June, when he fired the legal team who cut his plea deal. Flynn's new attorneys include conservative former federal prosecutor Sidney Powell, who said the DOJ "extorted" Flynn's plea.
“The interviewing agents repeatedly sought to prompt the defendant to provide a truthful response,” wrote U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu, who detailed the interaction in the filing.
“Such conduct demonstrates that the agents were not in search of a crime, but the truth about what had happened and why — which the defendant failed to provide,” she wrote. “Had they wanted to ‘trap’ the defendant into a false statement charge, they would not have prompted him repeatedly to correct his statements.”
Flynn’s lawyers had pointed to what they believed were discrepancies between the notes by the two FBI agents, drafts of the 302, and the final 302 itself, alleging the documents had been “manipulated.”
The DOJ also dismissed concerns about alleged discrepancies between drafts of the interview notes, calling the changes "largely grammatical and stylistic."
“The interviewing agents’ handwritten notes, interview report, drafts of the interview report, and statements are consistent and clear that the defendant made multiple false statements to the agents about his communications with the Russian Ambassador on January 24, 2017,” Liu wrote.
Flynn's lawyers argued the 2017 interview was improper because “the FBI knew that its questions had nothing to do with ‘Russian interference’ in the election.”
“The defendant’s conduct and communications with Russia went to the heart of that inquiry,” Liu wrote. “The defendant’s false statements inhibited the FBI’s ability to obtain that critical information, raised questions about why the defendant would lie to the FBI about such communications, and fundamentally influenced the FBI’s investigative activity going forward.”
Flynn’s legal team also claimed that the government had sought to edit out Strzok’s remark that Flynn had “a very ‘sure’ demeanor and did not give any indicators of deception” during his interview. But the DOJ argued there was no evidence that the government concealed this evidence and claimed that Flynn not seeming to lie didn’t mean he hadn’t, especially since he had apparently misled others about the same topic.
“There is ample public evidence that the defendant also convincingly lied to other government officials about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador,” the DOJ said.
“The defendant made the same false statements to the Vice President, White House Chief of Staff, and White House Press Secretary, each of whom repeated the defendant’s false statements on national television.”
Trump said he asked for Flynn’s resignation in February 2017 because Flynn hadn’t been honest with the vice president about his discussions with Kislyak.
Powell told the Washington Examiner on Friday that “the prosecutors dwell in an imaginary alternative universe” and that “nothing excuses their conduct in this case — and apparently there indeed was an earlier 302.”
“Stay tuned for our reply,” Powell added.