The story of Michael Flynn is the classic “rise and fall” narrative–except that Flynn rose, fell, rose again, fell again, and is still falling… and may yet avoid the ground. It’s a repetitious cycle of personal fortune that crosses administrations, involves multiple troubling foreign connections, and has resulted in myriad public and official investigations into his actions in the highest echelons of the American security apparatus. Few individuals have had even one ignominious career in government. Flynn–who went from a decorated Army officer to Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama before being forced out of that position for various management style disagreements to being a highly regarded advisor to President Donald Trump before resigning from the shortest term of any National Security Advisor in American history, at only 24 days on the job–has had two. The messiness of following the cyclical nature of this man’s history is readily apparent. For clarity, we are including a timeline of events regarding Michael Flynn at the end of this piece.
Looking at the wider picture of the connections to foreign influence in the Trump campaign and administration, we see many individuals that are not hiding their past dealings, but also some that have been. When so many of your campaign and administration’s key players have direct contact with Russians and Russian companies, including Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign manager Paul Manafort, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of State and former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, foreign policy advisor for the campaign Carter Page, and of course Flynn himself, you don’t really have a firm standing to claim that you have no connections to Russia. Yet, that is exactly what Donald Trump has attempted to persuade the American public of time and again. The connections are well documented and extensive. It’s important to understand that the facts of a Russian connection to Trump have been a part of established knowledge for decades, but only now that there is the future of a presidency at stake have denials and obfuscation been issued from all those directly involved.
For Michael Flynn, what could have been an innocuous set of connections began to take an abrupt turn toward the immoral and illegal when, in September 2016 during the run up to the Presidential election, Flynn took the opportunity to be paid for work as a lobbyist for the interest of the Turkish government. The primary issue here is that Flynn did not disclose this information until months later, after attending many intelligence meetings. The connection required him to register as a foreign agent. A person who has recently received payment from foreign governments and corporations is generally considered not qualified for service in a president’s Cabinet, particularly at the highest levels of our national security apparatus. But this information did not stop Trump from nominating Flynn as National Security Advisor.
The National Security Advisor is an important role in any administration. The person assigned to this position is tasked with being the President’s chief advisor of all things coming from the intelligence community. In the past, the National Security Advisor briefed the President nearly daily and sometimes more often as needed. The position is not one that is confirmed by the Senate; rather, it is solely up to the judgement of the President who should fill the post. It is quite clear that any position in the U.S. government should be held by no one beholden to foreign interests. This allegiance is only that much more important when dealing with classified intelligence involving foreign actors and how our operatives are dealing with them. This is no place for someone who can be compromised by the very groups they are tasked with combatting.
What came to light next would spell the final straw for Trump to remove Flynn from his team. Flynn had met and discussed sanctions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak well before Trump had been installed as the next President. This action is strictly reserved for the current administration, something Flynn clearly knew, as shown by his misleading statements about his repeated contacts with Kislyak. Those lies caused then Vice President-Elect Mike Pence to repeat the misrepresentations and therefore cause an embarrassment for the young administration once the truth had been revealed. Pence’s misstatements have been given as the reason for Flynn’s dismissal, but it must be noted that Mike Pence shares in the culpability here. Flynn told the Trump transition team that he was under investigation for his foreign lobbying a full two weeks before inauguration. Although Pence denies knowledge of this, the best case scenario is that he was being grossly negligent as the head of the transition team.
This explanation of who knew about the Flynn/Kislyak contacts and when takes as accurate the claims of the Trump administration, but those claims are not necessarily factual. It is questionable how much Trump and his associates were aware of Flynn’s Russian and other connections and when they became aware of them. We may never know the exact answers to the questions that all of this brings up, but investigatory pressure is being applied on this and many other worrying aspects of the Trump campaign and administration. There are four Congressional investigations running concurrently investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 Presidential election: those pursued by the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Oversight Committee, and the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism. All of these committees, headed by Republicans, are looking to take a back seat to the newly assigned Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Depending on the nature of Mueller’s investigation and the direction that electoral results begin to go, we may see these Congressional investigations either slow to a crawl or start digging deeper and faster than previously. It will truly be a political calculation based on whether the Republicans in charge of these committees see completing or delaying their tasks as most expedient for their own and their party’s future.
There is another path to the truth that we cannot discount or ignore: the press. As the White House continues to limit access to the organizations which thrive on it, the news media will crave the biggest headlines they can find on their own. Without steady, official communication from the administration, the leaks will increase in quantity and depth, and it’s anyone’s guess at to whether the Special Counsel or the press will find the truth first.
For Michael Flynn’s part, he has so far denied subpoena requests, invoking 5th Amendment protection, from the Senate Intelligence Committee for documents related to his Russian communications. This refusal is not unexpected and is not illegal, but it does raise more questions than it answers. What is in the documentation? Why would he need immunity to provide more information? Robert Mueller will undoubtedly include Flynn in his investigations and should be able to answer these questions.
Continuing their efforts, the Senate Intelligence Committee has now expanded their request with two new subpoenas and are calling into question whether Flynn and his companies, which are part of the subpoena requests, can legally block the acquisition of documents pertaining to an investigation when traditionally the 5th Amendment has been primarily used for personal testimony and not for the gathering of evidence in the form of documentation from a business entity. If it is determined that Flynn cannot invoke the 5th Amendment and still refuses to cooperate, he could be charged with contempt of Congress. While not carrying the same weight as contempt of Court in a criminal trial, contempt of Congress would still be something that a person under investigation for possible crimes would want to avoid, because being willing to push back this much on an otherwise simple request for documents indicates that there was wrongdoing being performed.Otherwise, why bother invoking 5th Amendment protection in the first place?
It is not entirely clear what motivations has led Michael Flynn down the path he has. Money is an easy answer, but it is rarely the only reason for a person in such a position in life to willfully act against the oath to their country that they have upheld for decades. Flynn appears to have seen his life’s work in military intelligence become twisted around in the world of politics. Once Flynn was ousted from the Obama administration, he seems to have opened himself up to manipulation from outside his own country, and used his previously earned prominence to continue his ability to influence politicians, only now with non-American interests guiding his actions. The resulting web of deceit seems to have caught up with Flynn, but it remains to be seen what the final outcome will be for him.
Michael Flynn: a Timeline of Known Events
- 1981 – Graduates from University of Rhode Island and is commissioned as an Army second lieutenant in Military Intelligence.
- Numerous deployments and command positions, including as director of intelligence for the Joint Task Force in Afghanistan and Iraq, then for United States Central Command, then for the Joint Staff, then for International Security Assistance Force – Afghanistan and Special Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff, then finally as Assistant Director of National Intelligence for Partner Engagement before his next assignment:
- July 24, 2012 – 18th Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, appointed by President Obama.
- April 2014 – Forced out as Director of the DIA.
- December 10, 2015 – Attends a celebratory gala for the 10th anniversary of the Russian-state television network Russia Today. Sits next to Vladimir Putin. Receives payment for his role in discussion that takes place in Moscow.
- February 2016 – Begins advising Trump campaign on foreign policy and national security.
- July 18, 2016 – Headlines first night of Republican National Convention with a speech that includes the encouragement of jailing a political opponent.
- Beginning in August 2016 – Flynn is paid over $500,000 through his consulting firm lobbying on behalf of the Turkish government. This included speaking with the cousin of Turkish President Erdoğan. Flynn would later fail to properly disclose this information to federal ethics officials on a form despite being required to list himself as a foreign agent based on his taking money from another country to promote their interests, an action closely monitored in former American military members working in government.
- Prior to November 8, 2016 – Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak begins a series of communications with Flynn, the contents of which were considered by senior U.S. officials as inappropriate and possibly illegal. The Obama administration decides not to bring this information into the light prior to election day.
- November 8, 2016 – An essay by Flynn is published by The Hill (a political news outlet popular in D.C.), extolling Americans to support Turkish President Erdoğan’s wish to extradite Fethullah Gülen, an exiled Turkish preacher currently living in Pennsylvania. After the revelation of Flynn’s dealings with the Turkish government, The Hill would add the following Editor’s Note to the essay:
“Editor’s Note: On March 8, 2017, four months after this article was published, General Flynn filed documents with the Federal government indicating that he earned $530,000 last fall for consulting work that might have aided the government of Turkey. In the filings, Flynn disclosed that he had received payments from Inovo BV, a Dutch company owned by a Turkish businessman with ties to Turkey’s president and that Inovo reviewed the draft before it was submitted to The Hill. Neither General Flynn nor his representatives disclosed this information when the essay was submitted.”
- November 8, 2016 – Donald Trump is elected President of the United States by a slim Electoral College victory.
- November 16, 2016 – Flynn is selected to be Trump’s National Security Advisor.
- November 30, 2016 at the earliest – Flynn is informed by the Justice Department that his various lobbying efforts are being investigated.
- December 6, 2016 – Mike Pence is questioned about Flynn’s son’s role in the transition. As the transition team leader, Pence first denies the conspiracy theory spreading that the younger Flynn is on the team. Later in the day, Pence has to correct the story because the elder Flynn had asked for security clearance for his son without discussing the request with the transition team.
- December 25, 2016 – Flynn texts Kislyak. According to Pence, they discuss Christmas and a plane crash.
- January 4, 2017 – Flynn finally informs the transition team of the Justice Department investigation into his lobbying.
- January 10, 2017 – Once again showing preference to the wishes of Turkey rather than the United States, Flynn opposes a military operation that was part of a plan to retake Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital.
- January 20, 2017 – Donald Trump is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America.
- January 22, 2017 – Michael Flynn is sworn in as Trump’s National Security Advisor, a role that does not require Senate approval.
- January 24, 2017 – Flynn is questioned by the FBI about his communications with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn denies discussing American sanctions against Russia. The intelligence community had intercepted these communications, as they tend to with foreign agents, and their transcripts contradicted Flynn’s account.
- January 26 – 27, 2017 – Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama administration holdover, informs Trump’s White House counsel Don McGahn about Flynn’s lies and that he is vulnerable to blackmail by Russia.
- January 31, 2017 – Yates is fired by Trump (ostensibly for refusing to defend Trump’s travel and immigration Executive Order, commonly referred to as the “Muslim Ban.”
- February 8, 2017 – Flynn denies discussing sanctions with Kislyak.
- February 9, 2017 – Flynn’s spokesman changes his story to not having “recollection of discussing sanctions…could not be certain that the topic never came up.” Mike Pence learns of this change in story by reading the report from The Washington Post.
- February 13, 2017 – Following the revelations from the Post of Sally Yates’ warning of vulnerability of blackmail, Flynn tenders his resignation, having spent a little over three weeks in his position.
- March 31, 2017 – Michael Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, writes in a statement to the House and Senate intelligence committees that “General Flynn certainly has a story to tell” but requests immunity in exchange. Both committees decline to offer immunity.
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