The US justice department last night said it was 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 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 Mr Flynn lied to the FBI in a January 2017 interview about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.
Mr Flynn admitted as much, pleading guilty before later asking to withdraw the plea, and he became a key co-operator for Mr Mueller as the special counsel investigated ties between Russia and Mr Trump's 2016 political campaign.
Yesterday's action was swiftly embraced by Mr Trump, who has relentlessly tweeted about the "outrageous" case and last week pronounced Mr Flynn "exonerated".
It could also newly energise Trump supporters who have taken up the retired army lieutenant general as a cause.
But it will also add to Democratic complaints that Attorney General William Barr is excessively loyal to the president, and could be a distraction for a justice department that for months has sought to focus on crimes arising from the coronavirus.
After the announcement, Mr Trump declared that Mr Flynn had been "an innocent man" all along.
He accused Obama administration officials of targeting Mr Flynn, and said: "I hope that a big price is going to be paid."
At one point he went further, saying of the effort to investigate Mr Flynn: "It's treason. It's treason."
In court documents filed yesterday, the justice department said that after reviewing newly disclosed information and other materials, it agreed with Mr Flynn's lawyers that his interview with the FBI should never have taken place because he had not had inappropriate contacts with Russians. The interview, the department said, was "conducted without any legitimate investigative basis".
The US attorney reviewing Mr Flynn's case, Jeff Jensen, formally recommended dropping it to Mr Barr last week, the course of action recommended by Mr Trump, who appointed Mr Barr to head the justice department.
Mr Barr has increasingly challenged the federal Trump-Russia investigation, saying in a television interview last month that it was started "without any basis".
Mr Jensen said in a statement: "Through the course of my review of General Flynn's case, I concluded the proper and just course was to dismiss the case. I briefed Attorney General Barr on my findings, advised him on these conclusions, and he agreed."
The department's action comes amid an internal review into the handling of the case and an aggressive effort by Mr Flynn's lawyers to challenge the basis for the prosecution.
The lawyers cited newly disclosed FBI emails and notes last week to allege Mr Flynn was improperly trapped into lying when agents interviewed him at the White House days after Trump's inauguration.
Though none of the documents appeared to undercut the central allegation that Mr Flynn had lied to the FBI, Mr Trump last week pronounced him "exonerated".
Yesterday's filing was the latest dramatic development in a years-old case full of twists and turns.
In recent months, Mr Flynn's attorneys have levelled a series of allegations about the FBI's actions and asked to withdraw his guilty plea.
A judge has rejected most of the claims and not ruled on others, including the bid to revoke the plea.
Yesterday's filing says the FBI had no basis to continue investigating Mr Flynn after failing to find that he had done anything wrong.
It says there was nothing on his Russia calls "to indicate an inappropriate relationship between Mr Flynn and a foreign power", and that none of the statements he made to the FBI had any relevance to the underlying investigation into whether the Trump campaign and Russia were illegally co-ordinating.
It also cites internal uncertainty within the FBI over whether Flynn had lied, noting the agents who interviewed him reported that he had a "very sure demeanour" and that-then FBI director James Comey had said it was a "close" call.