RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A federal appeals court just in the past hour has sided with the government's request to drop the case against President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. NPR's national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson joins us to talk through this breaking news. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: What did the judges say in this?
JOHNSON: Yeah, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, a three-judge panel, voted 2-to-1 to order the lower court judge in this case to go ahead and dismiss the prosecution of Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. The reasoning was that in their view, the lower court judge was exceeding his authority and that to make the Justice Department explain its decision to drop the case against Mike Flynn was an intrusion on the executive branch and would require the Justice Department to share all kinds of material about its internal deliberations that are nobody's business.
I should note that this ruling was written by Neomi Rao, a President Trump appointee to the court, and joined by Judge Karen Henderson, a Republican appointee as well. Dissenting was Robert Wilkins, an Obama appointee.
MARTIN: But I thought the whole reason that the lower court judge had been pressing the federal government to explain its position, explain why it was backing away from Flynn, was because Flynn himself had pled guilty twice. So what happened to that?
JOHNSON: Flynn did plead guilty twice. He was prosecuted as part of the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference in 2016. But after the fact, Flynn got a new lawyer, and he was making allegations about the government's alleged failures to turn over evidence. Ultimately, Attorney General Bill Barr did a new review, and he found what he called some legal defects in the case. So he ordered it to be dismissed, and it set off this huge conflagration with the lower court judge kind of doubting Bill Barr's representations.
MARTIN: Can you just put it into context for us? I mean, how unusual is it for the government to turn on its own case?
JOHNSON: Rachel, this is so unusual, especially after Michael Flynn twice in court stood up and knowingly pleaded guilty to a federal crime. But the long and the short of it based on this ruling today is that the lower court judge is either going to have to dismiss the case against Flynn or ask the full court, the full appeals court or even the Supreme Court, to weigh in here. And that would be an extraordinary step, too.
MARTIN: We should just note today, there's this hearing before - on Capitol Hill. Two Department of Justice whistleblowers are going to testify about what they see as political interference in the Department of Justice. How is this, this issue now, the possibility that Mike Flynn might walk, how is this going to come up? I imagine it will.
JOHNSON: I'm sure it will come up. You know, what Democrats on Capitol Hill have been raising questions about is what they see as a pattern by this Justice Department, the Barr Justice Department, to go back and give extra scrutiny to cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller and to give special scrutiny to the actions of officials in power during the 2016 election and campaign. This is a big victory for Bill Barr's Justice Department today, though, if it stands in the Michael Flynn case.
MARTIN: All right, NPR's national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson walking through this breaking news with us - a federal appeals court siding with the government's request to drop the case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Carrie, thank you for your reporting and context on this. We appreciate it.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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