U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr has assigned an outside prosecutor to review the criminal case against President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser Michael Flynn, who is awaiting sentencing for lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, local media reported Friday.
Barr asked Jeffrey Jensen, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, “to scrutinize” Flynn’s case, said multiple reports, noting the review began in the past month.
The move was “highly unusual and could trigger more accusations of political interference by top Justice Department officials into the work of career prosecutors,” The New York Times commented.
Flynn resigned a month into the new Trump administration in 2017. The investigation into Flynn’s case led to the appointment of former special counsel Robert Mueller over the probe into the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Barr has been under fire on allegations of “misuse of the criminal justice system” due to controversy surrounding the Justice Department’s decision to lessen a sentence for Trump ally Roger Stone after the president tweeted about his displeasure with the gravity of the original sentence recommendation.
Four career federal prosecutors have resigned in protest after the Justice Department overruled them on the Stone case earlier this week.
The attorney general is also facing intense scrutiny over the removal of U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu in January and accepting Ukraine-related information from Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
On Wednesday, Trump praised Barr on Twitter for the attorney general’s intervening in the case: “Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.”
Barr said on ABC News on Thursday that Trump “has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case” but should stop tweeting about the Justice Department because the president’s tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job.”
Trump quoted part of Barr’s saying on Friday, declaring that he has the “legal right” to ask his top law enforcement official to intervene in a criminal case.
“‘The President has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.’ A.G. Barr This doesn’t mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so, I do, but I have so far chosen not to!” Trump tweeted.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has called for the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate what pressure Trump and Barr might have exerted behind the scenes.