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Justice Department says it 'inadvertently' altered Flynn notes

Posted October 7, 2020 6:50 p.m. EDT

— The Justice Department said Wednesday that it "inadvertently" altered documents that it recently submitted to a federal court as part of its ongoing effort to dismiss the criminal case against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.

At the request of Attorney General William Barr, federal prosecutors began reviewing the Flynn case earlier this year and have been sharing internal FBI and Justice Department documents with Flynn's lawyers. After a recent batch of handwritten notes were released, two former FBI officials wrote to the court saying that their notes contained dates and markings that were not authentic.

Federal prosecutors acknowledged the discrepancies on Wednesday, saying they were accidentally caused by the FBI agents who examined the original files. The handwritten notes weren't dated, so the FBI agents put sticky notes on the files with "estimated dates," and forgot to remove them before scanning the documents, which were later entered into the court record.

"Those two sticky notes were inadvertently not removed when the notes were scanned by FBI Headquarters, before they were forwarded to our office for production," said lawyers for the Justice Department, referring to notes by former top FBI official Peter Strzok. They also said a similar error was made on a document written by former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

President Donald Trump and his allies have used the documents, and past releases, to promote their baseless conspiracy theory that McCabe and Strzok were part of a "deep state" plot to sabotage Trump. They were both fired from the FBI in 2018. McCabe is now a CNN contributor.

Notes detailed 2017 meeting

Strzok and McCabe wrote to Judge Emmet Sullivan after their notes became public, and raised concerns about the memos. Sullivan ordered the Justice Department to explain what happened.

The handwritten notes describe an Oval Office meeting in early January 2017 about Russian interference in the recent election and the FBI's ongoing efforts to understand Team Trump's ties to Russia. While surveilling the Russian ambassador's phones, the FBI picked up some of his conversations with Flynn where they discussed potentially easing US sanctions on Russia.

At the Oval Office meeting, then-FBI Director James Comey briefed President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden about the Flynn calls. Other officials in the room have said the briefing was triggered by national security concerns about Flynn's dealings with the Russians.

The meeting was on January 5, 2017. But the sticky notes added by FBI agents indicated a date range of January 4-5, 2017. Flynn's lawyers have claimed that the earlier timeline deepens Biden's role in the supposed plot to undermine Trump -- a dubious charge that Biden denies.

Later that month, Flynn repeatedly lied about the content of the calls when he was interviewed by the FBI, according to court filings. This led to his guilty plea in late 2017 for lying to the FBI, though he has since disavowed his plea, and the Justice Department is trying to drop the case.

Sullivan is still mulling the Justice Department's request to drop the case, or whether to proceed to sentencing. It's not known if he will issue his ruling before or after the election.

Also on Wednesday, Flynn's lawyers filed a motion seeking to get Sullivan tossed from the case. The long-shot request has little chance of succeeding, but will provide more fodder for Trump and right-wing media figures to attack Sullivan. A federal appeals court rejected a previous attempt to remove Sullivan, rebuffing arguments from Flynn that Sullivan is biased.

The President has spent much of the last day attacking the Russia investigation on Twitter. He singled out Comey and McCabe by name and called for the jailing of former FBI officials who were part of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Trump's vast connections to Russia.

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