Lawmakers suggest ex-Trump aide Flynn broke US law
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, appeared to violate federal law when he failed to seek permission or inform the U.S. government about accepting tens of thousands of dollars from Russian organizations after a trip there in 2015, leaders of a House oversight committee said Tuesday.
The congressmen also raised new questions about fees Flynn received as part of $530,000 in consulting work his company performed for a businessman tied to Turkey’s government.
The bipartisan accusations that Flynn may have broken the law come as his foreign contacts are being examined by other congressional committees as part of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential ties between Trump associates and the Kremlin. Congress returned earlier this week from its spring recess, and Tuesday’s announcements reflected renewed interest on Capitol Hill.
Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said they saw no evidence that Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, properly disclosed foreign payments he received to military officials or on his security clearance paperwork. Flynn, who headed the military’s top intelligence agency, was Trump’s national security adviser until he was fired in February.
Among the payments in question was more than $33,000 that Flynn received in 2015 from the Russia Today television network, which has been described by U.S. intelligence officials as a propaganda front for Russia’s government.
“That money needs to be recovered,” said Chaffetz, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Chaffetz said Flynn was obligated as a retired Army officer to request permission from both the Defense and State departments about prospective foreign government payments before he received them. “There was nothing in the data to show that Gen. Flynn complied with the law,” Chaffetz said.
Cummings said Flynn’s failure to formally report the Russian payments on his security clearance paperwork amounted to concealment of the money, which could be prosecuted as a felony.
Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, said Flynn reported his plans to travel to Russia to his former agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and he briefed officials there after he returned. Kelner declined to answer questions about whether Flynn properly disclosed the payments.
The congressmen spoke after reviewing classified documents regarding Flynn that were provided by the Defense Intelligence Agency. They were also briefed by agency officials. The congressmen declined to describe in detail the materials they reviewed. But Cummings said the documents were “extremely troubling” and he urged the administration to declassify them.
Chaffetz and Cummings said they planned to write to the comptroller of the Army and the Defense Department’s inspector general for a final determination as to whether Flynn broke the law and whether the government needs to pursue criminal charges and seek to recover the payments Flynn received.
Cummings also criticized the White House for refusing to turn over documents the committee requested about Flynn’s foreign contacts during his three-week stint as national security adviser. In response to a letter to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, an administration official told the committee that documents relating to those contacts likely contained classified and other sensitive information, weren’t relevant to the committee’s investigation and could not be turned over.
“That is simply unacceptable,” Cummings said.
At the White House, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the committee’s request for Flynn’s security clearance information was referred to the Defense Department, which turned over documents. He said the White House did not release a detailed list of Flynn’s contacts with foreign officials, a request he dismissed as “outlandish.”
Spicer said that the president was confident in his decision to fire Flynn in February on grounds that Flynn had misled the vice president about a conversation he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the transition. Spicer declined to say whether the White House believed Flynn had violated the law. He said the conduct occurred before Flynn was appointed national security adviser in January.
Kelner, Flynn’s attorney, said in a statement that Flynn briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency about the 2015 Moscow event organized by the Russia Today news organization. Flynn had led the spy agency until 2014, when he was forced to retire by the Obama administration.