Move to Drop Flynn Charge Reverberates in Ex-Business Partner’s Case

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WASHINGTON — Lawyers for a former business partner of President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn who was acquitted on charges of illegal foreign lobbying have asked the Justice Department to abandon an appeal of the case, saying the investigation was intertwined with the prosecution of Mr. Flynn that the department is seeking to drop.

The request by the lawyers for Mr. Flynn’s former business associate, Bijan Kian, who also goes by the name Bijan Rafiekian, is the latest fallout from Attorney General William P. Barr’s move last month to withdraw a charge of lying to investigators against Mr. Flynn after a public campaign by Mr. Trump and his allies. Former law enforcement officials have condemned Mr. Barr’s effort, which a judge is now scrutinizing, as further politicizing the traditionally independent Justice Department.

In a letter to Jeffrey B. Jensen, the federal prosecutor appointed to review the Flynn case, Mr. Kian’s lawyers argued that because of his findings, the prosecution of their client “rests on far more doubtful grounds.”

“If the same analysis that yielded these conclusions with regard to Flynn is applied to the government’s approach” to Mr. Kian, “there can be little doubt that a substantially similar conclusion must be reached,” the lawyers wrote last month, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The New York Times.

A spokesman for prosecutors in Northern Virginia, where Mr. Kian was tried, declined to comment. A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A jury convicted Mr. Kian of secretly lobbying on behalf of Turkey last year, but a judge threw out the case, saying prosecutors failed to present enough evidence to sustain their charges. Prosecutors appealed the judge’s ruling, saying it was riddled with legal errors.

Mr. Flynn was a central figure in the prosecution of Mr. Kian. As he pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about his conversations with a Russian diplomat, Mr. Flynn also admitted that he had violated foreign lobbying laws while working with Mr. Kian, though prosecutors agreed not to pursue those charges in their plea agreement with Mr. Flynn.

As part of that deal, Mr. Flynn agreed to testify against Mr. Kian. But then Mr. Flynn abruptly changed his story on the eve of Mr. Kian’s trial, blaming his previous lawyers for filing inaccurate foreign lobbying disclosure forms without his knowledge. The move was a blow to the prosecution’s case.

The about-face was part of Mr. Flynn’s broader reversal. He moved to withdraw his guilty plea this year, claiming he never lied to the F.B.I. about several calls with Sergey I. Kislyak, who was then the Russian ambassador to the United States, and that he simply did not recall what he said during the conversations. Mr. Barr assigned Mr. Jensen, the top federal prosecutor in St. Louis, to review the matter.

Mr. Jensen recommended the charge be dropped after finding documents and other evidence that the Justice Department said showed that the F.B.I. lacked sufficient reason to question Mr. Flynn about his calls with Mr. Kislyak. In determining that Mr. Flynn’s lies were not material to an ongoing counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the department reversed its position of two years on the matter.

In their motion to drop the case against Mr. Flynn, prosecutors argued that the “frail and shifting justifications for its ongoing probe of Mr. Flynn, as well as the irregular procedure that preceded his interview, suggests that the F.B.I. was eager to interview Mr. Flynn irrespective of any underlying investigation.”

Mr. Kian’s lawyers seized on that reasoning to suggest that his prosecution was also misguided. They called it “the direct progeny of the investigation and charging of Flynn — a process that has now been exposed as fundamentally corrupt.”

Though the government’s motion to drop the Flynn case does not mention his lies about his work for Turkey, Mr. Kian’s lawyers said the cases were inseparable. They also suggested that Mr. Trump’s influence contributed to Mr. Barr’s decision to withdraw the charge against Mr. Flynn.

“Political notoriety and the affection of the president must not influence — much less play the dispositive role in — how the Department of Justice makes decisions that go to the heart of the principles of federal criminal prosecution,” they wrote.

The lawyers added: “The prosecution of Rafiekian is a direct consequence of the government misconduct uncovered in your review of Flynn’s guilty plea.”

Mr. Kian was charged in 2018 with conspiracy to violate lobbying laws and failure to register as a foreign agent. He was indicted, along with another man, Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish-Dutch businessman, as part of a federal investigation into Turkey’s secret 2016 lobbying campaign to pressure the United States to expel Fethullah Gulen, a rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

Prosecutors accused the two men of seeking to conceal that Turkish government officials were directing the project, saying that they approved the budget and Mr. Alptekin regularly updated them. The men paid Mr. Flynn’s firm, Flynn Intel Group, $530,000 for work on the effort.

Prosecutors begin examining whether Mr. Flynn was working as a lobbyist for Turkey after he wrote an op-ed article for The Hill newspaper on Election Day 2016 attacking Mr. Gulen as a “radical Islamist” and a “shady Islamic mullah.” Americans who work to influence the government on behalf of foreign governments are required to disclose their work to the Justice Department, and Mr. Flynn had not.

Mr. Kian was convicted after a short trial, but a judge later threw out the charges, saying in a lengthy opinion that prosecutors provided “no evidence that the op-ed had been requested by the Turkish government.”

In their letter on May 22 to Mr. Jensen, Mr. Kian’s lawyers railed at the government’s decision to move forward with the case after Mr. Flynn was dropped as a witness.

“This bizarre sequence of events makes clear that the prosecution and purported cooperation of Flynn as the sole and original source of the decision to charge Bijan Rafiekian was improperly managed and fatally flawed,” they wrote.

Mr. Kian’s lawyers also said that prosecutors should have provided classified information that they said they had about Mr. Flynn’s communications with Mr. Alptekin and that keeping it from the defense was unfair to Mr. Kian.

“The prosecutors tried to use this apparently exculpatory evidence against Rafiekian by making the blanket assertion that the undisclosed facts — known only to the government — would further inculpate the defendant,” they wrote.