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The Cable

Pentagon Watchdog Opens Investigation of Foreign Payments to Flynn

The disgraced former national security advisor’s legal troubles appear to be mounting.


The Pentagon’s watchdog has opened a probe into whether former National Security Advisor retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn violated the law by accepting payments from a foreign government.

The investigation, revealed on Thursday by the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, is the latest setback for the disgraced former Trump campaign aide and White House advisor, whose dealings with Russian entities are under scrutiny in multiple probes.

In a letter to the oversight panel, the Department of Defense’s acting inspector general, Glenn Fine said he would examine whether Flynn failed to obtain the necessary approvals before a trip to Moscow in December 2015 paid for by Kremlin-funded broadcaster RT. At the time, Flynn was retired from the Army but he was still barred from accepting payments from foreign governments without permission from the secretary of the army and the secretary of state. RT functions as a mouthpiece of the Russian state.

That letter and two others released by Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland seem to underscore Flynn’s worsening legal predicament. “These documents raise grave questions about why General Flynn concealed the payments he received from foreign sources after he was warned explicitly by the Pentagon,” he said in a statement accompanying the letters’ release.

Robert Kelner, Flynn’s lawyer, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. He has claimed previously that his client informed officials at the Defense Intelligence Agency, which the retired lieutenant general helmed until his firing in 2014, about the trip to Russia.

But another letter released Thursday would seem to undercut that claim. The DIA said it had found no records describing payment for Flynn’s December 2015 Russia trip and that he had not sought permission to be paid, the April 7 letter to the House Oversight Committee said.

Meanwhile, a third letter released by Cummings reveals that Flynn was indeed informed in detail about his legal obligation not to accept funds from a foreign government following his departure from the Army. The Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution “prohibits receipt of consulting fees, gifts, travel expenses, honoraria, or salary by all retired military personnel … from a foreign government” without prior approval, a DIA official wrote to Flynn in October 2014.

The trio of letters illustrate the increasing legal troubles facing Flynn as he confronts the fallout from his work on behalf of President Donald Trump and a coterie of foreign interests. Trump fired Flynn as his top national security advisor after less than a month in office after it was revealed that the former DIA director had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

As congressional and FBI investigators probe the Trump campaign’s relationship to Russia in the aftermath of an election season that saw Kremlin agents attempt to boost the real estate mogul’s electoral chances through a campaign of hacking and leaking sensitive documents, Flynn’s work has emerged as one focus of the investigations.

Investigators are examining whether Trump lieutenants conspired with Kremlin agents in their campaign to influence the U.S. election. If such collusion occurred, it may be highly difficult to prove. But the failure to disclose payments represent a straightforward path toward prosecuting Flynn. Flynn has sought immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, a legal gambit that American officials have so far rebuffed.

In exchange for his appearance at the RT gala, Flynn received a $45,000 payment from the outlet. RT covered Flynn’s travel, lodging, and expenses while in Russia, and also covered the cost of his son’s travel. During that trip, Flynn was seated next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a dinner event, an appearance that the former national security advisor’s critics have seized on as evidence of his unusual ties to Moscow.

During the 2016 campaign, Flynn emerged as a confidante and key advisor to then-candidate Donald Trump, who made a series of pronouncements on the campaign trail that broke with U.S. policy and favored the Kremlin.

After his firing in 2014 after a falling out with the Obama administration, Flynn established a lucrative consulting firm, whose contracts may also come under scrutiny as part of the Defense Department probe.

Between September and November 2016, Flynn Intel Group received $530,000 in fees from the Dutch firm Inovo BV, which is led by a Turkish businessman with ties to the Turkish government. As a result of that work, Flynn retroactively registered as an agent of a foreign power under U.S. lobbying law.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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