Bloomberg Law
Free Newsletter Sign Up
Bloomberg Law
Free Newsletter Sign Up

Judge Emmet Sullivan Retiring, Oversaw Michael Flynn Case (1)

Feb. 4, 2021, 11:07 PMUpdated: Feb. 5, 2021, 1:11 AM

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, a trial court mainstay in Washington who presided over the politically fraught prosecution of Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and litigation over Hillary Clinton’s email server stemming from her days as secretary of state, is retiring.

The 27-year veteran of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is one of at least two dozen federal judges to announce plans in recent weeks to take senior status and give President Joe Biden, a Democrat, the opportunity to fill their seats.

Appointed to three different courts by Republican and Democratic presidents, Sullivan was at the center of a number of high-profile political and national security cases, including issues involving terror suspects held by the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

More recently, he presided over the prosecution of Flynn, the senior national security aide to former President Donald Trump who pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents during Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

During the case, Sullivan clashed with the Justice Department over its unusual request to drop the case, a move he saw as politically charged. Prosecutors argued that Flynn was tricked into lying to the FBI. Sullivan ultimately dismissed the case in December after Flynn was pardoned by Trump.

Appointed by Bill Clinton to the D.C. District Court in 1994, Sullivan wound up overseeing litigation involving Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was the nation’s top diplomat. The issue became a major controversy during her ill-fated 2016 presidential campaign. Sullivan also presided over the government’s failed corruption prosecution of the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

Before joining the D.C. District, Sullivan was appointed by George H. W. Bush to the D.C. Court of Appeals and by Ronald Reagan to the D.C. Superior Court. He was born and raised in Washington and received his undergraduate and law degrees from Howard University.

Sullivan will be taking senior status, a form of semi-retirement, on April 3, according to a statement from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton. She’s D.C.'s nonvoting delegate in the House. Norton is already looking for a replacement for Sullivan and accepting applications, the statement said.

Separately, the White House notified the Senate on Thursday that it was withdrawing the nominations of Raúl M. Arias-Marxuach, of Puerto Rico, for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit; Maria Teresa Bonifacio Cenzon for the District of Guam; and Edmund G. LaCour Jr. for the Middle District of Alabama. All three were nominated by Donald Trump.

(Updates with additional information throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at; John Crawley at