A federal court on Wednesday ordered U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan to immediately dismiss the criminal charges against Michael Flynn.
The ruling was a significant victory for the Justice Department, which took the unusual move last month to dismiss charges against Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators.
Sullivan, however, refused to grant the Justice Department's request, and instead sought to determine whether the request was politically motivated. Sullivan even took the highly unusual step of inviting outside counsel — former U.S. District Judge John Gleeson — to argue against the Justice Department.
Flynn's legal team responded by asking the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to intervene, requesting the court force Sullivan to comply with the Justice Department's request.
The appeals court, in a 2-1 ruling, sided with Flynn on Wednesday.
The court ruled that allowing Sullivan to examine the motive behind the Justice Department's request would interfere with the constitutional separation of powers.
"In this case, the district court's actions will result in specific harms to the exercise of the Executive Branch's exclusive prosecutorial power," Judge Neomi Rao wrote in the majority opinion. "The contemplated proceedings would likely require the Executive to reveal the internal deliberative process behind its exercise of prosecutorial discretion, interfering with the Article II charging authority."
"If evidence comes to light calling into question the integrity or purpose of an underlying criminal investigation, the Executive Branch must have the authority to decide that further prosecution is not in the interest of justice," Rao explained.
Judge Robert Wilkins dissented, saying his own court overstepped its boundaries.
"It is a great irony that, in finding the District Court to have exceeded its jurisdiction, this Court so grievously oversteps its own," Wilkins wrote. "This appears to be the first time that we have issued a writ of mandamus to compel a district court to rule in a particular manner on a motion without first giving the lower court a reasonable opportunity to issue its own ruling."
President Donald Trump celebrated the ruling.
"Great! Appeals Court Upholds Justice Departments Request To Drop Criminal Case Against General Michael Flynn!" he wrote on Twitter.