Former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn appears to have lied to federal investigators last year about who paid for his 2015 trip to Moscow during a Defense Department inquiry into the renewal of his top-secret security clearance, a leading Capitol Hill Democrat said Monday.
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he intended to turn his information about Flynn over to Robert Mueller, named last week as a Department of Justice special counsel charged with investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
Mueller will also look into whether Russia colluded with President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. Flynn served as a top adviser to Trump during his campaign and through the transition before becoming his White House national security adviser. Trump fired Flynn 24 days later, after federal prosecutors informed the White House about Flynn’s involvement with Russia and suggested he could subject to blackmail.
Cummings’ allegations about Flynn were contained in a letter to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the oversight committee, in which he pressed Democratic demands that Chaffetz subpoena the White House for records about Flynn. The Trump White House has already rebuffed a bipartisan request from Chaffetz and Cummings for the records.
Flynn, 68, is a central figure in the sweeping investigation into Russia’s meddling in last year’s U.S. election, allegedly for the purpose of damaging Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and helping Trump, a Republican, win the White House.
Flynn has been implicated on several grounds, including that he lied in denying that he had discussed the U.S. sanctions against Russia during post-election phone calls and that he may have violated a federal law by failing to promptly register as a foreign agent last fall because his consulting firm had accepted more than $500,000 from a Dutch company with ties to Turkey.
After Trump rocked the nation’s capital by firing FBI Director James Comey earlier this month, who was leading the inquiry, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reinstated a measure of calm by putting the inquiry in the hands of Mueller, who was Comey’s predecessor as bureau director for a dozen years.
Disclosure of the Pentagon report puts Flynn further on the defensive, suggesting that he had intentionally misled investigators about a critical issue in seeking to extend his high-level access to national security secrets while representing a foreign government.
Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, could not be reached immediately for comment.
However, Kelner wrote leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee Monday that the retired three-star Army general is invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and will refuse to respond to the panel’s May 10 subpoena for documents concerning its separate inquiry into his activities. He’d informed the committee last week that Flynn would not respond to the subpoena.
A White House spokesman declined to comment because the events in question occurred months before the Trump administration took office.
In his letter, Cummings described a Defense Department “Report of Investigation” on Flynn’s request for a renewal of his security clearance. A retired lieutenant general, he served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014. Then-President Barack Obama allegedly fired him for insubordination for clashing with superiors over the agency’s global operations.
Flynn held a clearance giving him access to top secret/sensitive compartmented information, a code phrase meaning he could view some of the nation’s most tightly protected national security information. Former U.S. intelligence officials such as Flynn often keep their clearances because they can be called on to assist in certain circumstances even after they leave government.
Flynn’s clearance was renewed. But Cummings said recent disclosures had shown that Flynn appeared to have lied on several issues. One had to do with his 2015 trip to Moscow at a dinner, where he sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin, held by RT, a Russia state-sponsored global news operation. U.S. intelligence agencies say RT was instrumental in the Russian plot to disrupt the presidential election.
RT had paid for Flynn’s appearance, according to reports.
Flynn, according to Cummings, also told Defense Department investigators that he had not taken any money from Russia, had not received any benefits from a foreign country, had no connections with any foreign government officials and had had only insubstantial contact with foreign officials.
“It is difficult to understand how Gen. Flynn could have believed that his dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin was an ‘insubstantial contact,’ ” Cummings wrote.
In March, Flynn offered to testify to the House and Senate Intelligence committees in return for immunity – a proposal that has drawn no support from Congress.
Kelner, in his letter Monday to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s chairman, Richard Burr, R-N.C., and ranking Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, said multiple members of Congress had publicly assailed Flynn and some had “demanded that he be investigated and even prosecuted.”
“He is the target on nearly a daily basis of outrageous allegations, often attributed to anonymous sources in Congress or elsewhere in the United States government, which, however fanciful on their face and unsubstantiated by evidence, feed the escalating public frenzy against him,” he wrote.
In this climate, Kelner said, Flynn “has more than a reasonable apprehension that any testimony he provides could be used against him,” thus “giving rise to a right not to testify.”
The committee sought a list of all meetings, as well all records of communications between Flynn and any Russian official or representative of Russian business interests between June 16, 2015, and Jan. 20, 2017.