Trump Says He’s ‘Strongly Considering’ Pardoning Flynn
WASHINGTON — As the country reeled from growing health and economic crises brought on by the spread of the coronavirus, President Trump announced on Sunday that he was “strongly considering” a pardon for his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.
Mr. Trump, who appeared to spend the day stewing at the White House, also lashed out at a familiar group of perceived Democratic enemies: Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.
The president brought up Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server, accused Mr. Schumer of threatening his two appointees to the Supreme Court and falsely blamed the Obama administration of responding slowly to the swine flu outbreak in 2009.
In the evening, Mr. Trump made an appearance in the White House briefing room, where he congratulated the Federal Reserve for cutting rates to near zero. He also said Americans did not need to “hoard” food, after a call with grocery executives, who he said have committed to staying open through the pandemic.
“Take it easy, just relax,” the president said. “We’re doing great. It will all pass.”
He left Vice President Mike Pence to address the escalating anxiety across the country and the availability of testing.
As known cases of the coronavirus in the United States exceeded 2,700 in 49 states, Mr. Trump for the first time said publicly that he expected to pardon Mr. Flynn, who had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. Later, Mr. Flynn asked a judge if he could withdraw that plea.
“So now it is reported that, after destroying his life & the life of his wonderful family (and many others also), the FBI, working in conjunction with the Justice Department, has ‘lost’ the records of General Michael Flynn,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter, possibly referring to official F.B.I. interview notes. “How convenient. I am strongly considering a Full Pardon!”
Some aides close to Mr. Trump say he may be moving to pardon Mr. Flynn — an act that would open up the president to enormous criticism — at a time when the news media’s attention is largely focused on a fast-spreading pandemic.
Initially aides believed Mr. Trump was likely to pardon Mr. Flynn after the November election, but officials now say it may be sooner. They caution, however, that Mr. Trump is unpredictable and could change his mind at any moment.
Mr. Trump’s comments came hours after he called for a day of national prayer in the country.
As passengers returning from Europe faced long waits at airports for health screenings, Mr. Trump initiated a Twitter broadside against Mrs. Clinton, his opponent in the 2016 election.
“Great Job by Judicial Watch,” Mr. Trump said, promoting a news alert from a nonprofit group about a legal development in its continuing fight to obtain Mrs. Clinton’s depositions about her emails as well as records related to the 2012 Benghazi attack. “Potentially a treasure trove,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Too bad you are not given more help, but it will all work out!”
Mr. Trump, who skipped his Sunday routine on the golf course, also sought to suggest the Obama administration played a role in the current crisis.
In announcing his coronavirus task force’s 5 p.m. news conference, the president singled out Mr. Biden, the current front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary.
“The USA was never set up for this, just look at the catastrophe of the H1N1 Swine Flu (Biden in charge, 17,000 people lost, very late response time),” Mr. Trump tweeted. In fact, under the Obama administration, diagnostic tests for the 2009 swine flu outbreak were approved and shipped less than two weeks after the H1N1 virus was identified and a day before the first death in the United States.
And even as a top health official warned that Americans should prepare to “hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” Mr. Trump was focused on Mr. Schumer, the Senate minority leader. Resuscitating a story that made the rounds in conservative news media weeks earlier, the president accused Mr. Schumer of threatening his two appointees to the Supreme Court.
“Can’t believe they are not going after Schumer for the threats he made to our cherished United States Supreme Court, and our two great Justices,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “If a Republican did that, there would be an endless price to pay. Pathetic!” He was referring to comments Mr. Schumer made this month, when he said Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Neil M. Gorsuch had “released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price! You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”
The president and his aides have broached the idea of pardoning Mr. Flynn before. Since hiring combative new lawyers last year, Mr. Flynn has sought to discredit the F.B.I.’s investigation into him. His lawyers have accused prosecutors of trying to suppress the original F.B.I. interview notes, known as 302s, because they could show that Mr. Flynn was being truthful with agents at the time. Mr. Flynn’s lawyers have also tried to claim that later drafts of the interview notes were somehow manipulated.
In December, the federal judge in the case, Emmet G. Sullivan of Federal District Court in the District of Columbia, roundly rejected those accusations along with others Mr. Flynn’s lawyers leveled at prosecutors and the F.B.I.
All the F.B.I. materials “and Mr. Flynn’s own admissions of his false statements make clear that Mr. Flynn made those false statements,” Judge Sullivan wrote in his ruling.
So far, Mr. Flynn’s efforts to derail his case have failed. It remains unknown if Judge Sullivan will approve Mr. Flynn’s motion to withdraw from his guilty plea after carefully accepting it from him in December 2018. Mr. Flynn faces up to six months in prison for lying to investigators in the Russia inquiry, but prosecutors have said that probation was also a reasonable sentence.
Mr. Flynn’s decision to upend his legal strategy, possibly prompting Judge Sullivan’s ire, is seen as a risky move. It raises questions about whether his lawyers are ultimately trying to give the president a trumped-up reason for a pardon that is not based on actual wrongdoing but the perception of one.
During the news conference, Mr. Trump again attacked the news media, after he falsely claimed last week that Google had 1,700 engineers at work on a coronavirus website that would help people evaluate their symptoms and locate a drive-by testing site.
“The Fake and Corrupt News never called Google,” Mr. Trump tweeted earlier in the day, inaccurately, in his latest attempt to sow mistrust of the news media. “Even in times such as these, they are not truthful. Watch for their apology, it won’t happen.”
Addressing reporters in the White House briefing room a day earlier, Mr. Trump offered kind words to one of his favorite foils. “I just want to thank everybody,” he said. “Over the last 24 hours, I think the representation has been very fair, for the most part. Been very fair. We’re all in this together.”