The filing of the bombshell was only signed by provisional US attorney Timothy Shea, a political official who used the court's identity number to his outcast predecessor Jesse Liu. The incorrect ID number is a technical error that may need to be fixed before the judge weighs in.
A Justice Department official told CNN Saturday that the ID number under Shea's name was a clerical oversight. The official said it was the fault of an employee who delivered the filing to the court on Shea's behalf – but who did not sign it himself. The official said Shea was part of a team that wrote the document, and declined to explain why career attorney Jocelyn Ballantine, who signed several other recent filings in the Flynn case, did not sign it.
Usually, the case processing of protocols by journalists in litigation rarely draws public attention – and the bar registration numbers even less. But in Flynn and Stone, prosecutors signing the filings have become a surprising sign of turmoil between career prosecutors and Trump's handpicked leadership in the Department of Justice and Washington, DC, head Shea.
A team of public prosecutors began filing this filing early this week, according to a person familiar with the case. Shea had not noticed the error until Friday night, more than 24 hours after it was filed, and the US Attorney's Office is now planning to fix it, the Justice Department official said.
The flub could now draw the attention of Judge Emmet Sullivan, who has yet to weigh in on the US Attorney's attempt to bring the case to Flynn even after the former national security adviser under oath said he was guilty of lying to the FBI. Although the Justice Department now says it does not want to prosecute Flynn, Sullivan has the authority to keep the case alive, and asks for more explanations. He previously accepted Flynn's allegation – after Flynn told the judge he wasn't caught by the FBI and deliberately lied to them – and reviewed evidence in the case, dismissing Fynn's allegations that the FBI acted inappropriately when agents interviewed him in the West Wing about his contacts with Russia in January 2017. Trump has seized on the Justice Department's change against Flynn as a way to undermine the broader Russia investigation.
Last week, a St. Louis U.S. attorney handed over the Flynn case this year, Jeffrey Jensen, Barr and Flyn's defense team presented evidence he had gathered about the FBI's approach to Flynn and recommended the charges be dropped, Barr told CBS News in an interview Thursday. Barr and Shea both agreed with Jensen's recommendation, Barr said.
Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday called the Flynn case development evidence of political manipulation within the Justice Department, and asked the department's independent watchdog to investigate.
"Every career lawyer involved in the case refused to participate in this mockery of justice, and no official of the Justice Department or external expert can find a precedent for such an obvious abdication of the ministry's responsibilities," wrote the Democratic sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Richard Blumenthal to Justice Department Inspector Michael Horowitz, who previously found the FBI's Russia investigation was opened properly.
In the Flynn case this week, the two public prosecutors who handled it, Brandon Van Grack and Ballantine, did not sign the document. Ballantine sent it to the court – as an attorney in the office, she had access to the court's electronic filing system – while Van Grack, who oversaw Flyn's claim during the Mueller investigation, withdrew the case an hour before the Justice Department announced it would dismiss Flyn's lie expense. Two other prosecutors who previously appeared before the judge in the case are no longer with the Justice Department.
As the interim US attorney, Shea's name stands on every recent filing of prosecution in his office – but US attorneys rarely, if ever, file the filing themselves.
Shea is a registered attorney in the District of Columbia, but has not been registered in DC District Court, the federal court in the area, and explained at least in one aspect why he personally could not deliver the document electronically on Thursday.
Liu is a member of the DC District Court and was assigned the bar number, according to court records.
Liu left the US law firm in DC and was replaced by Shea in January. She was twice nominated for other positions in the executive branch before the White House withdrew those nominations in the wake of the Stone case, and she no longer works for the government. She declined to comment on Saturday.
Shea has not been confirmed by the Senate, so he leads the office as a temporary nominee elected by the president. He has been a practicing attorney in Washington, DC, since 1993, according to attorney's records. The legal industry largely regulates itself, and courts enforce their own strict case law when lawyers come before them.
CNN's Evan Perez and David Shortell contributed to this story.