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Appeals court orders Michael Flynn judge to respond to demand for dismissal of case against ex-Trump advisor – CNBC

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Former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn leaves the Prettyman Federal Courthouse following a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court December 18, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

A federal appeals court on Thursday ordered the judge handling the criminal case of President Donald Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, to respond to a request by Flynn’s lawyers to dismiss the case.

The order came two days after Flynn’s lawyers asked the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to drop the case and assign any future court proceedings to another judge.

The Department of Justice two weeks earlier made the surprise move to abandon its own prosecution of Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration.

But U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan did not immediately grant the DOJ’s motion to dismiss its case. Instead, he appointed a former federal judge to argue against the request, and submitted a schedule to allow third parties to submit arguments in the case.

Flynn’s lawyers had argued to the appeals court that Sullivan’s moves “reveal his plan to continue the case indefinitely, rubbing salt in General Flynn’s open wound from the Government’s misconduct and threatening him with criminal contempt.”

Sullivan has 10 days to respond to the appeals court’s order. Sidney Powell, an attorney for Flynn, did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the order.

Flynn had appeared in Sullivan’s courtroom in December 2018 to be sentenced, but the retired lieutenant general opted to delay the proceeding after Sullivan warned Flynn may face jail time if he was sentenced before completing his cooperation with then-special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators.

Months later, Flynn dismissed his legal team and hired Powell, a vocal Mueller critic, who soon began efforts to undo the criminal case. Powell accused prosecutors of withholding exculpatory information from Flynn, a claim that the Justice Department for months repeatedly denied.

The Justice Department’s request this month to dismiss the charge against Flynn was signed by Timothy Shea, the interim U.S. attorney for D.C. at the time, and not by any of the prosecutors who had handled Flynn’s case up to that point.

The dismissal request has been highly controversial. Former prosecutors say it smacked of favoritism toward an ally of Trump, and some have specifically accused Attorney General William Barr of manipulating the justice system to help the president. Trump has frequently criticized the case against Flynn.

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Coronavirus latest: US death toll tops 100000 – Financial Times

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For Premium subscribers, we offer our dedicated ‘FT Free Trade’ newsletter every Tuesday and Thursday.

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White House doesn’t detail Trump’s rationale for removing watchdogs to top GOP senator – CNN

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The letter, which Grassley swiftly blasted as having “failed to address” the congressional requirement that there “ought to be a good reason” for such dismissals, comes in response to the Iowa senator’s request that Trump explain why he had ousted State Department Inspector General Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.

“President Trump expects that inspectors general, like all other executive officers, will fulfill their proper role as defined by Congress and ultimately as constrained by the Constitution,” the White House letter said. “When the President loses confidence in an inspector general, he will exercise his constitutional right and duty to remove that officer.”

READ: White House letter to Chuck Grassley says Trump acted within his authority in ouster of IGs

Grassley responded in a statement Tuesday night, saying in part, “I don’t dispute the president’s authority under the Constitution, but without sufficient explanation, it’s fair to question the president’s rationale for removing an inspector general. If the president has a good reason to remove an inspector general, just tell Congress what it is.”

“Otherwise, the American people will be left speculating whether political or self-interests are to blame. That’s not good for the presidency or government accountability.”

Grassley, the chamber’s most senior Republican, has been a longtime defender of whistleblowers and government oversight and has broken with Trump on the topic several times during his presidency.

The President had announced his intent to remove Linick earlier this month — a move that drew immediate condemnation from top Democrats, who accused Trump of engaging in a pattern of retaliation against public servants charged with oversight of his administration.
And Linick’s removal came after Trump’s April ouster of Atkinson, who had told Congress about the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment.

“Government Accountability isn’t only a Republican issue or a Democrat issue,” Grassley said Tuesday. “Inspectors general shouldn’t be politically motivated or politically targeted. And those of us in Congress have a duty to promote accountability, regardless of who is in office.”

“Oversight’s been important in past administrations and it will continue to be in the future. I hope the new-found appreciation for inspectors general by some of my colleagues and those in the media doesn’t sunset at the end of this administration,” he continued.

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Schumer, Democrats claim outside Trump advisor helps rig the judicial nomination process – CNBC

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and several of his fellow Democratic lawmakers are scrutinizing one of President Donald Trump’s outside advisors and his multimillion-dollar “dark money” network for its work on the president’s judicial nominations.

Schumer, D-N.Y., along with Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., published a report on Wednesday that said that Leonard Leo, a conservative activist, and his influential network have rigged the judicial nominating and approval process. 

The report said it is the first of what will be several attempts by congressional Democrats to highlight what they argue are examples of “corruption and conflicts of interests now spreading around the Trump judiciary.” The future efforts will include proposed legislation, although the report didn’t expand upon what those proposed laws will look like. 

Whitehouse told CNBC after publication that one of their goals with future legislation is to focus on revealing anonymous donors that fuel outside groups on both sides of the political spectrum.

“They all have to go, they all have to disclose,” he said. “This is not just for Republican leaning groups that have to disclose,” he explained. 

The move comes as the campaign to take control of the Senate heats up. The GOP has a 53-47 majority, but it is defending more seats than the Democratic Party in this fall’s elections. The Senate approves nominees to the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court. Four Republican-held Senate seats — in Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Maine — have been deemed toss-ups by political analysts at the Cook Political Report.

The report also comes after Schumer and Whitehouse, along with other senators, co-signed a letter blasting Leo and his aligned group. 

Since Trump became president in 2016, he has turned to Leo to help guide his selections for judicial appointments, including to the Supreme Court. Leo supported Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch during the buildup to their confirmations to the high court. Leo’s guidance has led to close to 200 Trump judicial nominations being confirmed by the Senate. 

The Democrats’ report said Leo and the nonprofit conservative Federalist Society are a key part of an all-out effort to swing the courts toward nominees that are often supported by Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Leo was the executive vice president of the group before he created a new group, CRC Advisors, which is dedicated to promoting Trump’s court appointees going into his reelection fight with Joe Biden.

Leo is still co-chairman of the Federalist Society, which focuses on conservative and libertarian legal theories. Democrats argue, however, that it has become a tool for Republicans and is directly aligned with Trump. 

“While the Federalist Society develops and promotes pro-corporate, pro-Republican donor legal theories, it has also become the linchpin of Republican efforts to select and confirm judges,” the report said. 

Leo responded to Schumer and the Democrats’ claims in a text message to CNBC late Tuesday, suggesting that they should be more focused on responding to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“You know what they say, if you don’t succeed at first, try and try again. Glad to see Senate Democrats are focused on Covid recovery, particularly those from New York,” he said. 

Citing news reports, including one from 2018 by CNBC, the Democrats’ study breaks down how the Federalist Society is funded by organizations linked to the Koch family and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It goes on to show a web of nonprofits and outside groups linked to Leo that have attempted to have an impact on the nomination process either through public relations campaigns or various forms of lobbying. These judicial groups are mainly funded by anonymous donors. 

The report also highlights the political operatives behind the large-scale judicial campaigns, such as the Judicial Crisis Network, and their ties to Leo. 

“JCN spent $7 million opposing President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. It then spent $10 million more to support the confirmation of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch (targeting ‘vulnerable Democrat Senators’), and pledged another $10 million in advertising campaigns to support Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination,” the report said. 

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