- Thomson Reuters
- Special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly has enough evidence to bring charges against Michael Flynn and his son related to their lobbying work last year that benefited the Turkish government. Flynn’s firm was tasked with lobbying the US government to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania who Erdogan believes is responsible for planning last year’s attempted coup. Mueller’s mandate gives him permission to investigate “any matters” that arise out of his investigation into Russia’s election interference. Legal experts have speculated that Mueller will try to squeeze Flynn to get him to cooperate in the probe.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly compiled enough evidence to bring charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., according to NBC News.
The evidence relates to Flynn’s lobbying work throughout the latter half of 2016 – while he was a top Trump campaign surrogate – for a businessman with ties to the Turkish government. Flynn did not register with the US Justice Department as a foreign agent until March 2017.
Mueller’s mandate gives him permission to investigate “any matters” that arise out of his investigation into Russia’s election interference and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.
The possibility of Flynn indictments suggests Mueller’s Russia investigation isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Last Monday, Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s former business associate, Rick Gates, pleaded not guilty after a grand jury indicted them on 12 counts.
What the charges against the Flynns could be
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Trump waited nearly three weeks to fire Flynn after former acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned him that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail over his conversations with former Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
Trump also ignored advice by President Barack Obama – who fired Flynn as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 – to steer clear of him entirely.
The president asked former FBI director James Comey to “let go” of the FBI’s investigation into Flynn’s activities during a February meeting shortly after Flynn was forced to resign.
Flynn Jr. appears to have been closely associated with his father’s work. In addition to co-founding and working for Flynn Intel Group, he joined Flynn during a trip to Moscow in December 2015, NBC News reported, during which Flynn was paid $34,000 to deliver a speech at an event celebrating the state-sponsored news agency RT.
A former business associate of Michael Flynn’s told NBC News that Flynn Jr. had a prominent role in Flynn Intel Group’s day-to-day operations and served as his father’s chief of staff.
Mueller’s additional focus on Flynn Jr. is likely an attempt to coerce his father’s cooperation in the investigation, legal experts have said. This possibility may be especially significant given that Flynn declined a new request in September to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Jens David Ohlin, a criminal law expert and vice dean at Cornell Law School, told Business Insider in September that while it’s difficult to evaluate “the factual or legal strength” of a possible case against Flynn Jr., it’s clear that Mueller “is following a classic prosecutorial strategy: start along the perimeter and work your way to the center.”
“The weakest link is usually the furthest away from the center of gravity,” Ohlin added.
Flynn’s conflicts of interest
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Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent Vice President Mike Pence a letter in November 2016 requesting more information about the potential conflicts of interest posed by Flynn’s lobbying work.
But Pence told Fox earlier this year that he first heard about Flynn’s undisclosed lobbying work after reports surfaced in March that Flynn had registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department.
Flynn was paid $530,000 last year by the businessman, Ekim Alptekin, who is a member of a Turkish economic-relations board run by an appointee of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Alptekin is also the head of Inovo, a consulting firm.
Flynn’s firm was tasked with fomenting dissent inside Turkey, and with lobbying the US government to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania, who Erdogan believes is responsible for planning last year’s attempted coup.
Mueller’s team also subpoenaed the lobbying firm SGR LLC in August after Flynn Intel Group hired the firm to ostensibly “promote a good business climate in Turkey,” The Washington Post reported. Flynn’s firm hired SGR as part of its work with Inovo.
Although Flynn’s group’s initial stated goal in hiring SGR was to foster a stronger business climate in Turkey, it was later forced to indicate that it brought SGR on to “raise concerns” to the US about Gulen.
Flynn raised eyebrows when he wrote an op-ed for The Hill in November 2016, alleging that Gulen helmed a “vast global network” that had “all the right markings to fit the description of a dangerous sleeper terror network.”
Flynn’s op-ed seemed out of place amid his work with Trump’s campaign, where he was national security adviser at the time. His work for Inovo did not come to light until after he registered as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice in March – four months after his contract with Alptekin ended.
‘We don’t want anyone to know the Flynn Intel Group has anything to do with this’
- Thomson Reuters
Alptekin paid the Flynn Intel Group half a million dollars to produce a documentary about the dangers of Gulen that he had hoped would be “a small, ’60 Minutes’ kind of a thing, where these conclusions are brought to the public,” the businessman told The Wall Street Journal in May. “We thought that might have a good effect.”
David Enders, a former Vice News correspondent who was hired to work on the documentary, told The Wall Street Journal earlier this year that he was instructed to conceal Flynn Intel Group’s involvement in producing the film.
Enders recalled the head of the firm, Bijan Kian, telling him at the time, “We don’t want anyone to know the Flynn Intel Group has anything to do with this.” Enders told The Journal that Kian asked him to hide the film equipment from the staff of the hotel in which they were doing interviews.
In his Foreign Agent Registration Act filing, Flynn said his firm had conducted research for Inovo that “focused on” Gulen. But it may have gone further than that: Flynn met with Turkish government ministers in September, where he discussed removing Gulen from US soil, according to former CIA Director James Woolsey, who was at the meeting.
Mueller is investigating Woolsey’s account of that meeting, according to NBC.
Price Floyd, who was a spokesman for Flynn, strongly denied that such a discussion ever took place, telling Business Insider at the time that Flynn was contracted by Inovo partly “to gather information on Gulen and turn it over to legal authorities to take action.”