US President Trump is said to plan pardon of former aide Flynn

Michael Flynn twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with a Russian diplomat in late 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - US President Donald Trump has told aides that he plans to issue a pardon to his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

The person said that while nothing is final until Trump does it, he has made it clear that it is one of a string of pardons he plans to issue before leaving office.

Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant-general, twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with a Russian diplomat during the presidential transition in late 2016. Trump's plans were reported earlier by Axios.

In May, the Justice Department sought to withdraw its charges against Flynn. That move has since been tied up in federal court, challenged by the judge who presided over Flynn's case, Emmet G. Sullivan.

Flynn changed his legal team last year and began seeking to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming he never lied to investigators.

He has since become a hero figure on the pro-Trump right, cast as a decorated patriot victimized by the politically motivated Russia "hoax" investigation of Trump.

Trump himself has called Flynn "an innocent man," saying he was targeted by Obama administration officials trying to "take down a president."

"What happened to General Michael Flynn, a war hero, should never be allowed to happen to a citizen of the United States again!" Trump tweeted in April, weeks before the Justice Department sought to withdraw its charges.

After the Justice Department acted, Trump tweeted his approval, writing on May 8, "Yesterday was a BIG day for Justice in the USA."

In a late September hearing before Sullivan, a lawyer for Flynn, Sidney Powell, reluctantly admitted that she had recently spoken to Trump about the case, but said she had asked the President not to pardon her client.

Flynn has been awaiting a ruling from Sullivan on the Justice Department's motion to withdraw its charges. The Justice Department move raised alarms among career prosecutors about political influence at the department.

Powell herself has drawn intense scrutiny recently, appearing alongside lawyers for Trump, including Rudy Giuliani, to press an unfounded case of election fraud.

After Powell floated a set of particularly wild claims, Giuliani and another lawyer representing the Trump campaign, Jenna Ellis, said in an abrupt statement on Sunday that Powell "is not a member of the Trump legal team."

Many departing presidents have issued pardons and commutations near the end of their terms.

Former president Bill Clinton triggered particularly harsh criticism over his pardon of a wealthy Democratic donor in his final White House hours. But Democrats and legal experts fear that Trump will exercise his pardon power with a brazenness that shatters past precedent.

Trump has already commuted the sentence of Roger Stone, another associate ensnared in the Russia investigation who was convicted on seven felony counts and was to begin a 40-month term in federal prison.

Word of Trump's intentions comes on a day when Trump presided over the annual White House turkey pardon. Trump ignored shouted questions from reporters at the Rose Garden about whether he plans actual pardons before leaving office.

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