WASHINGTON — The White House maintained today that they were unaware former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn did work on behalf of the government of Turkey, despite reports days after Election Day that his company lobbied for a Turkish firm tied to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
On Election Day, Flynn published an op-ed in The Hill downplaying Erdoğan’s post-coup purge of perceived enemies and calling for the United States to not give safe haven to Fethullah Gülen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric and former Erdoğan ally. Flynn’s column echoed the Turkish government’s assertion that Gülen is a radical and Islamist Erdoğan is a valuable ally.
Three days later, the Daily Caller reported that Flynn’s consulting firm had been hired shortly before by a Dutch company called Inovo BV, founded by an Erdoğan ally. The Huffington Post, Politico and the New York Times printed their own stories on the links a few days after that.
After that disclosure, Flynn was brought on as President Trump’s national security advisor and has since resigned. This week, Flynn’s attorney registered the former DIA chief with the Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Unit, stating that $530,000 worth of work done between August and November “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.” The filing adds that Flynn’s firm was tasked with gathering intel on Gülen and pressuring figures in Washington for the extradition of the cleric.
The Associated Press reported today that the Trump transition team, including current White House counsel Don McGahn, was aware before Inauguration Day that Flynn might register as a foreign agent.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters today that “a personal lawyer of General Flynn’s contacted a transition lawyer and asked for guidance on what he should or should not do.”
“…This was a personal matter, it’s a business matter, it’s not something that would be appropriate for a government entity to give someone guidance on when they should file as an individual — as a private citizen.”
Spicer said “how would anyone know” in the administration that Flynn had worked for Turkey if he only registered as a foreign agent this week.
He insisted that the attorney’s contact with the transition team was “not a question of raising a red flag” but “whether or not they gave him the advice that they are supposed to, which is it is not up to them to make decisions as to what you need to do or not do.”
“Can you tell me that the executives at NBC News have gone through every single person’s and reporter’s background? … We trust people to fill out the forms that they are required to do so in an honest and legal manner. And in this case he retroactively filed the forms that he was supposed to do.”
On Nov. 18, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent a letter to Mike Pence, who was leading the transition team, about Flynn “receiving classified briefings during the presidential campaign while his consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, Inc., was being paid to lobby the U.S. Government on behalf of a foreign government’s interests.”
“Lt. Gen. Flynn’s General Counsel and Principal, Robert Kelley, confirmed that they were hired by a foreign company to lobby for Turkish interests, stating: ‘They want to keep posted on what we all want to be informed of: the present situation, the transition between President Obama and President-Elect Trump.’ When asked whether the firm had been hired because of Lt. Gen. Flynn’s close ties to President-elect Trump, Mr. Kelley responded, ‘I hope so,'” said Cummings’ letter. “…Lt. Gen. Flynn’s involvement in advising Mr. Trump on matters relating to Turkey or Russia—including attending classified briefings on those matters—could violate the Trump for America, Inc. Code of Ethical Conduct.”
Pence told Fox News on Thursday that he was unfamiliar with Flynn’s lobbying for Turkey and foreign agent registration.
“It’s the first I heard of it, and I think it is an affirmation of the president’s decision to ask General Flynn to resign,” said the vice president.