Michael Flynn cops to lobbying for Turkey during Trump’s presidential campaign
Former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn has retroactively admitted he was working as a foreign agent in the interests of the Turkish government in the months before he joined the Trump administration.
His admission is the latest cloud of controversy to hang over the retired U.S. general, who was fired as national security adviser less than four weeks into the job last month when it emerged he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials about phone conversations he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The White House said Thursday that President Trump didn’t know about Flynn’s lobbying work – that included targeting a political enemy of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan – before he was hired.
“I don’t believe that that was known,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at Thursday’s press briefing.
Yet word of Flynn’s links to Turkey first popped up as early as last year – prior to his appointment – raising questions about the quality of vetting of top Trump officials, and adding to the controversy surrounding the administration’s ties to foreign governments.
The revelation came shortly after Flynn and his company, Flynn Intel Group Inc., filed documents with the Justice Department on Wednesday retroactively registering him as a “foreign agent” for lobbying he had carried out for a firm linked to the Turkish government — as is required of U.S. nationals who lobby on behalf of foreign governments.
Flynn’s lobbying work for Inovo, a Dutch-based company with ties to Erdogan, included writing an op-ed for The Hill in November calling for the U.S. to extradite the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Erdogan accuses of having orchestrated a failed coup against him last year.
Flynn’s filing acknowledges that the $530,000 worth of consulting work he carried out between August and November “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey” at a time he was also working as a top adviser to the Trump campaign.
Pence described Flynn’s filing Thursday as “an affirmation of the president’s decision to ask General Flynn to resign,” and later told Fox News that he hadn’t known about the consulting contract.
Spicer said that as long as the proper paperwork was filed, there was “nothing nefarious” about Flynn’s actions, as the lobbying had occurred while he was a private citizen. He said he couldn’t say whether Trump would still have hired Flynn if he had known of the work.
“I don’t know … That’s a hypothetical,” said Spicer. “I don’t know what was discussed prior to the appointment in terms of his background, his résumé, his client base.”
On entering the administration, Flynn and other officials agreed not to lobby for five years after leaving their roles, and never to work for foreign governments. Flynn’s lobbying work took place before he entered government.
Critics described the latest revelations as troubling, and said they highlighted the need for deeper scrutiny of Trump officials’ links to foreign governments, following persistent questions about potential ties to the Kremlin.
The Russian issue was in the spotlight again this week when it emerged Trump had met Kislyak in April, contrary to previous denials by the president.
“This astonishing admission is more appalling evidence of foreign entanglements and conflicts of interest involving the Trump team,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement.
The owner of Inovo, Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, told AP that Flynn had filed after coming under pressure from Justice Department officials. He said he did not believe the filing was necessary, as he claimed not to be working for the Turkish government.
Cover: (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)