Attorney General William Barr is ordering a re-examination of several high-profile cases, including that of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, US officials briefed on the matter say, in a move that could bring fresh scrutiny of the political motives behind actions at the Justice Department.
US Attorney Jeffrey Jensen of St. Louis has been tasked with taking a second look at some aspects of the sensitive cases, one of the officials said. It was not clear which other cases were under review, and what form the reviews had taken.
Jensen is working together with Brandon Van Grack -- the former prosecutor who led the case against Flynn in former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation -- to review the case, according to a Justice Department official. It's possible that if the department continues to fight Flynn's attempts to withdraw his guilty plea, Van Grack could be a witness on the circumstances of his plea deal, according to several people familiar with the case.
The revelation, first reported by The New York Times, comes days after Barr's Justice Department undercut career prosecutors in the case of Donald Trump confidant Roger Stone to recommend a reduced sentence. The decision led four federal prosecutors to quit the case and invited fresh questions about the impartiality of Barr's Justice Department from political matters. On Wednesday, CNN reported that Barr had also been pressing for a sentence for Flynn that would spare him from prison.
Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general who served as Trump's first national security adviser and resigned a month into the new administration, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in 2017 to charges that he lied to the FBI about a conversation he had with the then-ambassador to Russia. The aftermath of the conversation, including Trump's encouragement of then-FBI Director James Comey to go easy on Flynn, led to the eventual appointment of Mueller.
In recent months, Flynn changed lawyers and has waged a campaign to portray himself as a victim of malicious prosecutors. He is asking a judge to dismiss his case or allow him to change his guilty plea to not guilty.
Flynn's new legal counsel has argued in court filings that the former national security adviser was ambushed in the January 2017 interview in an instance that was part of a larger pattern of abuses by the FBI. But a federal judge has rejected that claim and been harshly critical of Flynn's tactics.
The prospect of the Justice Department putting new scrutiny on the case would be a victory for Flynn and his legal team. It is also certain to please the President, who has maintained sympathy for his former aide and regularly claimed that cases emanating from the Mueller investigation were unjust.
Amid the fallout, Barr sought to distance himself from Trump's political pressure, giving an interview to ABC News on Thursday in which he issued a rare rebuke of the President's social media commentary on the Justice Department while defending his decision to go easier on Stone in advance of his sentencing.
Justice Department prosecutors in the Flynn case, from both the DC US Attorney's Office and department headquarters, have recently suggested in filings that they are gearing up to counter Flynn's attempts to get out of his charge and smear the prosecutors. But typically that could be handled by another prosecutor in the Washington area.
Jensen, a former FBI agent who went on to serve as a federal prosecutor in the office he now leads, was nominated by Trump in 2017 and was confirmed later that year in the Senate.
Last year, Barr turned to another US attorney, John Durham of Connecticut, to review the origins of the Russia investigation. That has since turned into a criminal probe, and is said to be examining elements of the US intelligence agencies' role in the Russia investigation.
This story has been update to include more background information.
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