Judge in Michael Flynn Case Says Pardon ‘Implies a “Confession” of Guilt’

Emmet G. Sullivan (Dana Verkouteren / Associated Press)
Dana Verkouteren / Associated Press

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, the presiding federal judge in the trial of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, said Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s decision to pardon Flynn did not mean that the retired general was actually innocent.

In a memorandum opinion issued as he closed the case, Sullivan made a number of conclusory statements based on claims that were never proven to be true, such as the claim that Flynn had lied to FBI agents. Though Flynn pleaded guilty, under pressure, to having done so, the agents who interviewed him at the time did not think he had lied. Sullivan argued: “As an initial matter, whether or not the FBI agents thought Mr. Flynn was lying is irrelevant in a false statements case.”

Sullivan also claimed that Flynn “personally asked for a favor from the Russian Ambassador that undermined the policy of the sitting President prior to the President-Elect taking office.” In fact, as the transcript of Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador show, he simply asked that Russia not escalate after the Obama administration had imposed sanctions. It was a statement in support of Obama’s policy, and it was not a “favor” for himself, but for America’s interests as a whole.

Sullivan wrote that were he permitted to rule on the Department of Justice’s motion to drop the charges against Flynn, it would have been a “close question,” but that he probably would not have done so, because he did not trust the government’s reasons. He then argued that a pardon did not mean Flynn was innocent, and actually implied that he was guilty after all:

On the other hand, a pardon does not necessarily render “innocent” a defendant of any alleged violation of the law. Indeed, the Supreme Court has recognized that the acceptance of a pardon implies a “confession” of guilt. … [T]he pardon “does not, standing alone, render [Mr. Flynn] innocent of the alleged violation.”

Sullivan did not bother to note that an ordinary acquittal also does not render a defendant “innocent,” and that courts merely find a defendant “guilty” or “not guilty.”

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His newest e-book is Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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