Michael Flynn

Image courtesy of Reuters

Flynn Lied to Federal Investigators on
Russia Probe

| published May 22, 2017 |

By Keith H. Roberts, Thursday Review contributor

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, ousted from the White House staff after it was revealed that he had not disclosed paid meetings and business relationships with Russia, may have lied to investigators and security clearance operatives when he told them his multiple appearances at events in Russia had been paid for by U.S. companies or American groups.

In fact, according to reports now being disseminated from Congressional sources, Flynn’s most notable appearances in Moscow were paid for entirely by Russian media firms. In a letter from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), members of the House Oversight Committee assert that Flynn lied during his last annual security clearance interview in 2016. Furthermore, NBC News has found evidence that Flynn deliberately failed to fill-in a required response on his clearance form in which he was asked to disclose any foreign financial transactions or paid work for any foreign entity or company.

Flynn’s December 2015 trip to Moscow to attend an exclusive dinner event which included President Vladimir Putin was paid for by the Russian media conglomerate RT, which owns television stations, radio stations, newspapers and websites, as well as a news service known to be extremely friendly to Putin and Putin allies. At that dinner, Flynn sat at the same table as Putin.

Not only would such information be required before being considered for the top national security position inside the White House, but Flynn—as a retired general and under the terms and conditions of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution—is prohibited for life from accepting money from foreign businesses or governments. Flynn is now the subject of multiple investigations, including those being conducted by the FBI and the Pentagon.

News sources on Monday were reporting that Flynn, under advice now being given to him by his attorneys, will invoke his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to speak further about the case to investigators or prosecutors. Flynn has also said he will not provide any of the documents now under subpoena. This newest flurry of controversy adds fuel to the multiple brush fires now threatening U.S. foreign policy, and—some have suggested—another major misstep by a White House team seemingly unprepared for the realities of Washington.

Despite President Donald Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey weeks ago, the Bureau’s investigations into possible connections between Russia and top campaign officials who worked for Trump in 2015 and 2016 continues unabated. The FBI is also looking into whether hackers backed by Moscow may have interfered with U.S. elections last fall.

A week ago, the investigation took on new life after the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to take the reins of the widening probe into accusations that the Russians meddled in U.S. elections and that there was coordination or collusion between the Trump campaign and the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Appointed by assistant attorney general Rod Rosenstein, former FBI director Robert Mueller will now push forward with the investigation, which now includes a complex and layered look at how Russian hackers gained access to the emails and electronic data of the Democratic National Committee, as well as a variety of previously undisclosed business connections between top Trump officials and Moscow.

According to a report in the Washington Post last week, the FBI has found direct links to what the Bureau describes as “a significant person of interest” among top White House staffers—which is to say someone close to the President who may have also coordinated information between the campaign and Russia.

On Friday, White House press spokesman Sean Spicer—while acknowledging that there were reports in the media regarding the new FBI lead—refused to elaborate, choosing instead to maintain that the White House and the President welcome a thorough investigation into the alleged Trump-Russia collusion, which Spicer said will “confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity.”

The FBI has made no comment officially on the matter of a top White House insider no potentially linked to the investigation.

Trump, through social media and during interviews with reporters, has repeatedly said that the investigation into the alleged collusion is a waste of taxpayer money, and that talk of a connection between the campaign and Moscow is “fake news” and a hoax. But Trump has also told some of those same reporters that he welcomes a complete investigation into the matter, if for no other reason than to allow his administration to move on to more important priorities.

Trump fired Comey only a day before several top Russian officials were scheduled to visit the White House for high level meetings—the timing of which was seen as particularly awkward within the context of the FBI’s probe. Comey’s dismissal sparked an intense firestorm within Washington and inside the halls of Congress, where Democrats cried foul and suggested President Trump was obstructing justice, and where even Republicans expressed suspicions that the White House seemed to be attempting to quash an open investigation. According to a report in the New York Times, participants in one of those meetings with top Russian diplomats heard Trump characterize Comey as “crazy, a real nut job.”

Thereafter, the rapidly-evolving story of Comey’s firing has had dozens of twists and turns, and has become a even larger distraction for a White House seemingly frustrated by its own ineptitude, badly-managed optics, and missed cues.

The news that the probe had reached into Trump’s inner circle at the White House arrived just as Trump and his entourage were departing from Andrews Air Force Base on the start of a tour of several foreign countries. First stop: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, then, on to Israel, the Vatican, and several economic and trade summits. In this case, the timing of President’s trip coincides with may be an awkward moment for U.S. foreign policy. Among other problems, White House insiders say that the President may have passed along extremely sensitive and classified information about U.S. intelligence efforts in the Middle East directly to the Russians, data which could easily reveal both intelligence sources as well as methodologies—and some of apparently channeled through U.S. partners in Israel. Foreign policy analysts suggest that Israeli officials are unhappy that the White House passed along sensitive intel to top Russian diplomats and officials.

Trump and his team hope, however, that the foreign travels take attention away from the continuing and multifaceted fracas in Washington over the alleged ties between his campaign officials and Moscow.

Speaking on Saturday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he had no knowledge of which employee of the White House is at the center of the new report. Speaking in Saudi Arabia, Tillerson was asked directly to comment on the affair after other news agencies confirmed the Washington Post story.

“I do not have any information or knowledge regarding the ‘person of interest’ that’s been referenced,” Tillerson said. Tillerson is among several top White House officials or top administration appointees—among them Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner—who have previously acknowledged having past business relationships or political contacts with Moscow or with Russian companies. Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn also had ongoing contacts with Russia, but failed to disclose many parts of those relationships. Flynn was fired earlier in the spring.

Meanwhile, Comey has remained mostly silent on the subject of his dismissal, suggesting through some correspondence to fellow law enforcement officials that he has moved on and will not be burdened by resentment. Comey has said that the President has both the authority and the right to fire an FBI director for any reason. But Comey may yet be asked to appear before both the House and the Senate to offer a clearer insight into the circumstances surrounding his dismissal.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Comey's Firing Pleases Few in Washington; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; May 13, 2017.

Comey Dismissal Sparks Outrage in Congress; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; May 10, 2017.