Michael Flynn's lawyer admits discussing his criminal case with Trump
Revelation comes as judge considers rare request from U.S. Justice Department to dismiss his guilty plea
The lead attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn on Tuesday admitted to a federal judge that she has discussed the ongoing criminal case with the president, an extraordinary admission that raises questions about political interference.
U.S. Justice Department lawyers denied any corruption or political motives in efforts to get the federal criminal case against Flynn dropped.
In May, Attorney General William Barr stunned many in the legal community by ordering prosecutors to have the case dropped.
Flynn's defence counsel Sidney Powell at first declined to discuss the substance of her direct conversations with Trump, angering U.S. Judge Emmet Sullivan when she tried to invoke executive privilege.
"You don't work for the government," Sullivan told her.
Without going into much detail, Powell said she met in person with Trump recently to update him on the litigation and ask him not to issue a pardon.
Powell also downplayed a letter she sent to Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in June of 2019, in which she let them know she would soon be taking over as Flynn's lawyer and complained that the FBI had tried to entrap her client.
"I spoke one time to the president about this case to inform him of the general status" of the litigation, Flynn's lead defence counsel, Sidney Powell, told a court hearing in a tense exchange with the judge regarding Flynn's criminal case.
"I never discussed this case with the president until recently, when I asked him not to issue a pardon."
When Sullivan asked her whether she felt her letter to Barr was ethical, Powell replied: "Perfectly."
Powell's discussion of the case with Trump, along with her letter to senior Justice Department officials, are likely to further stoke debate over whether the Trump administration is improperly seeking to dismiss the case for political reasons — allegations the department has denied.
"I wanted to appear today because the allegations against our office that we would somehow operate or act with a corrupt political motive are not true," Kenneth Clair Kohl, an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia said. "I've never seen it in my entire career in our office and it didn't happen here."
He also directly attacked former top FBI officials, including former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former agent Peter Strzok, saying they could not be reliable witnesses for the government if it had proceeded with its prosecution of Flynn.
LISTEN | Strzok speaks to CBC News about Russian influence, upcoming election:
Flynn attorney asks judge to recuse himself
Powell told U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan she thought he was biased against Flynn and intended to file a motion to ask him to recuse himself.
Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, was charged under former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation that detailed Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election to boost Trump's candidacy.
Flynn pleaded guilty twice to lying to the FBI about his conversations before Trump took office with Sergey Kislyak, who was then Russia's ambassador to the United States, concerning U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia under then President Barack Obama.
He was due to be sentenced in December 2018.
Sullivan delayed that until Flynn could finish co-operating with the government in another pending criminal case out of Virginia. But Flynn last year switched lawyers and his new legal team claimed the FBI had set him up.
Critics have accused Barr of giving special treatment to Trump and his allies, including intervening in the sentencing of Roger Stone and a bid by the Justice Department to take over his defence in a defamation case stemming from an allegation he committed sexual assault in the 1990s.
Barr's unusual move ordering the case be dropped despite the guilty pleas led Sullivan to tap retired judge John Gleeson, whom he instructed to argue against the Justice Department's legal position.
Gleeson on Tuesday urged Sullivan not to drop the case.
"People who don't hang around in federal courtrooms don't really get just how important it is to enter a guilty plea," he said.
"People can't plead guilty and then show up for sentencing, as this defendant did on December 18, 2018 and see how the wind is blowing."