There was an easy way for President Donald Trump to make the case against Michael Flynn go away.
The Constitution gives the president “Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States,” and Trump hasn’t been shy about using the power in flamboyant ways. The man who pardoned Joe Arpaio while the criminal case against the former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff was still pending clearly has no compunction about cutting a case short using that power. The man who has dangled the possibility of pardons in cases arising out of the Russia investigation, including Flynn’s, doesn’t have scruples either about using it in matters that involve him directly. And Trump has made clear on numerous occasions that, at least in his view, Flynn deserves clemency; he has described him repeatedly as a good man destroyed by an investigation aimed at bringing down Trump himself.
A pardon would have been simple, wholly and unambiguously within Trump’s authority, and decisive, ending the case with a stroke of the presidential pen.
But Trump did not pardon Flynn. Instead, the president—or, rather, his attorney general—took a different approach. The Justice Department, under Attorney General William Barr, made an unusual request to the judge hearing Flynn’s case: The department sought to drop the prosecution, wiping away Flynn’s guilty plea. There has been no indication that Trump himself had any direct involvement in the decision, but he clearly approves of it. “Yesterday was a BIG day for Justice in the USA,” he tweeted after it was announced. “Congratulations to General Flynn, and many others. I do believe there is MUCH more to come! Dirty Cops and Crooked Politicians do not go well together!”