Sunday, June 14, 2020
The Flynn Plea Agreement: A Pernicious Paragraph
One of the ironies of high-profile, criminal investigations of public officials, particularly Special and Independent Counsel investigations, is the outrage expressed by certain segments of the populace upon discovering the existence of very common law enforcement techniques. Hence the outrage among President Clinton's supporters when they learned that Linda Tripp secretly tape-recorded her "best friend" Monica Lewinsky at the behest of Ken Starr's prosecutors. Hence the outrage, among Trump's supporters, when they discovered that FBI officials wanted to catch General Flynn in a lie and threatened his son with prosecution in order to coerce a guilty plea. "That happens all the time," say the know-it-all criminal law cognoscenti who fellow-travel with one side or another, as well as their minions who parrot the party line to the faithful. Except in the case of Judge Starr. Almost nobody was on our side, parroting our points. Except the courts. Most of the time. But I digress.
Our subject today is a nasty little paragraph inserted into General Flynn's plea agreement by Bob Mueller's staff. I first started noticing this provision 5 or 6 years ago in some of the plea offers that came my way, depending on which U.S. Attorney's Office I was dealing with at the time. It has shown up more often since then, but is far from universal. It can be found in most or all of the Mueller team's plea agreements. It is typically found in Paragraph 9(F) within the Waivers section. It states as follows: "Your client agrees to waive all rights, whether asserted directly or by a representative, to request or receive from any department or agency of the United States any records pertaining to the investigation or prosecution of this case, including and without any limitation any records that may be sought under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. Section 552, or the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. Section 552(a), for the duration of the Special Counsel's Investigation." The limiting of the waiver to the duration of the investigation is not a feature I have previously encountered.
Although the waiver does not mention Brady material on its face, it clearly applies to requests for exculpatory records. (As I noted here recently, it was after General Flynn’s case was transferred to Judge Sullivan’s court, and Sullivan entered his broad standing Brady Order, that Mueller’s team appears to have provided voluminous additional discovery to Flynn’s lawyers.) Prosecutors have a constitutional duty to turn over exculpatory information to the defense even if defense counsel does not request it. But case law holds that more detailed, specific defense requests create a greater prosecutorial obligation. In my view, this paragraph forces defense counsel to breach his or her ethical duties to the client to vigorously demand Brady material as well as mitigating information required under state ethical rules and the McDade Amendment. The Department of Justice should put a stop to this and prohibit all such provisions from being part of its plea agreements. This includes FOIA requests, which serve to ensure, post-judgment, that the government's Brady obligations have been met. Here is the Flynn Plea Agreement.