Holding the Government Accountable

It Keeps Getting Worse for Michael Flynn

(Photo: JFK Jr. Forum, Photographer Kristyn Ulanday)

This has been a bad week for Michael Flynn—probably his second-worst in recent months. As you may recall, President Trump’s former National Security Advisor was forced out of his position on February 13 when the Washington Post revealed that he had kept Vice President Pence in the dark about his communications with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), was National Security Advisor for just 24 days, the shortest of anyone in that position. But his resignation wasn’t the end of his troubles.

The next major shoe to drop was when it surfaced that Flynn had not registered during the election as a lobbyist for work he conducted that year on behalf of the government of Turkey, a U.S. ally with whom our relationship has been shaky in recent years. He finally retroactively disclosed in March to the Justice Department, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), that his firm received $530,000 from Turkey for work he did before election day.

You read that right. Trump’s National Security Advisor for nearly a month was a paid foreign agent during the election season while he was a senior campaign surrogate. But it was a secret during the campaign and while he was the National Security Advisor. In contrast, the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign had a foreign policy advisor who was a paid foreign agent for the Republic of Georgia, but that advisor disclosed under FARA during the campaign. When it came to light, the McCain campaign created a policy prohibiting “campaign workers from being registered lobbyists or foreign agents” and banning “part-time volunteers from policy discussions on issues involving their clients,” as USA Today reported at the time.

As POGO has extensively documented, late FARA disclosures are common and the law is poorly enforced by the Justice Department. Regardless, by intentional design or careless omission, Flynn kept the public in the dark for a long time and flouted the law requiring this disclosure.

This nearly half-year gap in his forthrightness wasn’t the end of his troubles.

In December 2015, Flynn gave a speech in Moscow and attended a gala for RT, a Russian government-owned media outlet. That’s the same gala where Flynn sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The U.S. intelligence community has called RT “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet" set up “to avoid the Foreign Agents Registration Act.” Regardless of one’s views on RT, Russia’s activities during our election last year, or even the broader relationship between Russian and the United States, Flynn should have been up-front about how much he was paid by a Russian government organization, whether FARA applied or not. When questioned by the press, Flynn would not comment.

It took a member of Congress—Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform (HOGR) Committee—to reveal Flynn got paid $45,000 by Russia for that December 2015 talk. And there were payments from other Russian entities too.

Depending on where you stand, all of this might make you outraged or make you shrug your shoulders. New developments might be a tipping point for those in the latter category.

This week, we learned that Flynn never disclosed these payments on his SF-86 security clearance questionnaire. This extremely important questionnaire asks applicants seeking access or continued access to America’s national security secrets numerous detailed questions, especially about their foreign contacts, relationships, work, and payments. Flynn—someone who spent his life in the national security bureaucracy—knows more than the average person, even the average Trump appointee, about the need for operational security, which includes thorough vetting when applying for security clearances. In fact, on the campaign trail, Flynn gave many impassioned speeches criticizing Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, for lax security practices during her time as Secretary of State and even led chants of “Lock her up!”

But now he may be in legal jeopardy. The security clearance questionnaire very pointedly warns that:

The U.S. Criminal Code (title 18, section 1001) provides that knowingly falsifying or concealing a material fact is a felony which may result in fines and/or up to five (5) years imprisonment. In addition, Federal agencies generally fire, do not grant a security clearance, or disqualify individuals who have materially and deliberately falsified these forms, and this remains a part of the permanent record for future placements. Your prospects of placement or security clearance are better if you answer all questions truthfully and completely. You will have adequate opportunity to explain any information you provide on this form and to make your comments part of the record.

The criticism of Flynn is now bipartisan. “Personally I see no evidence or no data to support the notion that General Flynn complied with the law,” said Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), HOGR chairman, at a press briefing this week.

We wrote to the Justice Department requesting an investigation. We noted that Flynn’s “omissions were significant since the payments he received were large, recent, and from countries in which the United States has an especially high national security interest.” These were not minor errors or details from decades ago. Nor did Flynn proactively and promptly correct his security clearance questionnaire.

After we sent our letter, we learned from the minority side of HOGR that the DIA—which Flynn once led—warned him in 2014 not to accept payments from foreign governments without advance approval. Without approval, as a retired military officer, Flynn could run afoul of the Foreign Emoluments provision of the U.S. Constitution.

DIA wrote that it “did not locate any records referring or relating to LTG [Lieutenant General] Flynn’s receipt of money from a foreign source. ... [and] did not locate any records of LTG Flynn seeking permission or approval for the receipt of money from a foreign source.” Flynn’s attorney asserts that Flynn briefed DIA about his Russian-financed trip to Moscow in December 2015.

In a letter to Congress, the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General stated it “has initiated an investigation to determine whether Lieutenant General (LTG) Flynn, U.S. Army (Retired) failed to obtain required approval prior to receiving any emolument from a foreign government.”

The ordeal for Flynn continues.