In an abrupt about-face, the Justice Department said it is dropping the criminal case against President Donald Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, abandoning a prosecution that became a rallying cry for the president and his supporters in attacking the FBI's Trump-Russia investigation.
The action on Thursday was a stunning reversal for one of the signature cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. It comes even though prosecutors for the past three years have maintained that Flynn lied to the FBI in a January 2017 interview about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.
Flynn admitted as much, pleading guilty before later asking to withdraw the plea, and he became a key cooperator for Mueller as the special counsel investigated ties between Russia and Trump's 2016 political campaign.
Thursday's action was swiftly embraced by Trump, who has relentlessly tweeted about the "outrageous" case and last week pronounced Flynn "exonerated", and it is likely to energise supporters of the president who have taken up the retired Army lieutenant general as a cause.
Trump praised Attorney General William Barr for abandoning the prosecution of Flynn.
"Bill Barr is a man of unbelievable credibility and courage and he's going to go down on the history books," Trump told 'Fox & Friends' on Friday.
Trump said if Barr had been his first attorney general, there would never have been a Russia probe. "He would have stopped it immediately," Trump said.
Democrats, however, have complained that Barr is excessively loyal to the president.
"Attorney General Barr's politicisation of justice knows no bounds," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, accusing his department of "dropping the case to continue to cover up for the president".
Shortly before the filing was submitted, Brandon Van Grack, a Mueller team member and veteran prosecutor on the case, withdrew from the prosecution, a possible sign of disagreement with the decision.
After the Flynn announcement, Trump declared that his former aide had been "an innocent man" all along. He accused Obama administration officials of targeting Flynn and said, "I hope that a big price is going to be paid."
Going further, he said of the effort to investigate Flynn: "It's treason. It's treason."
In court documents filed Thursday, the Justice Department said that after reviewing newly disclosed information and other materials, it agreed with Flynn's lawyers that his interview with the FBI should never have taken place because his contacts with the Russian ambassador were "entirely appropriate".
The US attorney reviewing the Flynn case, Jeff Jensen, formally recommended dropping it to Barr last week, the course of action publicly recommended by Trump, who appointed Barr to head the Justice Department.
Barr has increasingly challenged the federal Trump-Russia investigation, saying in an interview last month that it was started "without any basis".
In February, he overruled a decision by prosecutors in the case of Roger Stone, a longtime Trump friend and adviser, in favour of a more lenient recommended sentence.