Because of Mr. Flynn’s prior ties to Russian officials, F.B.I. agents had been scrutinizing him as part of the early stage of the investigation into Russia’s election meddling and whether any Trump campaign associates had conspired in that interference. But the bureau had decided to close its file on Mr. Flynn when his calls with the ambassador and his lies to his colleagues about them raised a new reason to be suspicious.
The F.B.I. decided to question Mr. Flynn about the calls to see what he would say, and on Jan. 24, 2017, as the national security adviser to the newly installed President Trump, Mr. Flynn provided to two agents a false description of his calls. Soon after, Mr. Trump ousted him, saying it was because he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the calls.
The office of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel later appointed to lead the Trump-Russia investigation, eventually struck a deal with Mr. Flynn’s original legal team under which he would cooperate and plead guilty to one count of making a false statement to resolve his legal liability both for that interview and for failing to register as a paid foreign agent of Turkey in 2016 and then signing forms in 2017 lying about the nature of that work.
But over time, Mr. Flynn’s case started to become a political cause for Mr. Trump and his supporters. Last year, Mr. Flynn changed legal teams and ceased cooperating with the Justice Department, and this year, he sought to withdraw his guilty plea. Mr. Barr then directed prosecutors to ask the judge to dismiss the case rather than sentence him.
Mr. Flynn’s new defense lawyer, Sidney Powell, had privately lobbied Mr. Barr to appoint an outsider to scour the case file for material that could be used to accuse investigators and prosecutors of misconduct, engineering a similar outcome to the department’s 2009 dismissal of a corruption case against a senator after his conviction.
Mr. Barr did so, and the department has turned over to the defense files showing that the F.B.I. was aggressive when it interviewed him, violating bureaucratic protocol by unilaterally sending agents to talk to him even though there were unresolved deliberations with Justice Department leaders about how to do so and whether to alert the White House counsel.
Among other things, the department also disclosed that the F.B.I. had decided to close the inquiry into Mr. Flynn before the issue of his calls and his lies to colleagues about them arose. Because the file was still open, however, the F.B.I. used it to question him.