Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn took more than $50,000 from businesses tied to the Russian government before he was named President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, a senior member of Congress charged Thursday.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the House Government Oversight Committee, said the bulk of Flynn’s money came from Russia’s RT television network, which the U.S. intelligence community has labeled the “Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.”
“I cannot recall any time in our nation’s history when the president selected as his national security advisor someone who violated the Constitution by accepting tens of thousands of dollars from an agent of a global adversary that attacked our democracy,” Cummings wrote in a letter dated Thursday to Trump, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and FBI director James Comey.
Cummings accused Trump and his advisers of showing unprecedented disinterest “in the truth” of Flynn’s work on behalf of foreign clients – “whether due to willful ignorance or knowing indifference.”
He demanded that the Defense Department take steps to recover the money Flynn had received from the foreign entities, which he said violated Pentagon regulations for retired officers.
Cummings’ detailed account of Flynn’s Russia payments came a week after Flynn acknowledged in a Justice Department filing that he had served as a paid agent for the Turkish government at the same time that he was a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign and was receiving classified intelligence briefings. Flynn received $530,000 for work in the third quarter of last year from a Turkish businessman, his Justice Department filing said.
The White House has said Trump was unaware of Flynn’s Turkey involvement, and Vice President Mike Pence has said he too did not know. But a letter Cummings wrote Pence Nov. 18, the day after Trump said he intended to name Flynn national security adviser, raised Flynn’s Turkey work, casting doubt on those versions.
In his letter Thursday, Cummings asked the three officials to reveal if Flynn had “fully disclosed . . . his communications with Russian agents, Turkish agents and other foreign agents” when he was vetted for the national security position.
Flynn’s involvement with the RT news agency was well known. In addition to appearing on newscasts as a commentator, Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, had attended a gala in Moscow marking RT’s 10th anniversary in December 2015, where he sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But until Cummings’ letter Thursday, few details were known about Flynn’s involvement with RT.
Cummings said he had obtained documents showing that Flynn had received $33,750 for the RT gala appearance. He also said Flynn had received $11,250 from a Russian air cargo company with Kremlin ties and the same amount from a Russian “government security solutions” company.
Word of Flynn’s paid work on behalf of Russian entities adds to the mystery swirling around reports of Trump campaign officials’ links to the Kremlin. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigation into Russian election meddling after it was revealed that he offered misleading testimony about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and Flynn was fired when it was revealed that the FBI had captured his conversations with Kislyak.
Flynn joined the Trump campaign shortly after his RT gala speech and was believed to be the primary advocate inside the campaign for Trump’s statements that he might consider lifting sanctions the Obama administration imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The news came on a day when another leading Republican, and Trump supporter, said it was unlikely there was any truth to Trump’s tweeted assertions that Obama had “wire-tapped Trump Tower” during the campaign.
“Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016,” Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
That closely tracked statements Wednesday by the leaders of the House intelligence committee that they too had seen no evidence backing Trump’s claim.
As for Flynn, in the past he had acknowledged being paid a speakers fee by RT, but had declined to discuss the amount and said it came from his speakers bureau. The documents Cummings released Thursday made it clear that the money came directly from RT to him.
Flynn, who served for only 24 days before Trump asked for his resignation, would have been aware as a former head of the DIA that the American intelligence community took a dubious view of the Russian television outlet.
A January U.S. intelligence community report on Russian attempts to interfere in the U.S. presidential election was particularly harsh in its judgment of RT’s role.
“Russia’s state-run propaganda machine – comprised of its domestic media apparatus, outlets targeting global audiences such as RT and Sputnik, and a network of quasi-government trolls – contributed to the influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences,” the report said.
The report went on to say that the network “actively collaborated with WikiLeaks” as a means “to denounce the United States.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Thursday that Flynn had not been asked to testify at a public hearing the committee will hold on Monday – the first such session since it launched its investigation of Russian meddling. But he suggested Flynn might be called later: “There will be time to bring in Michael Flynn.”
In addition to his letter to Trump, Mattis and Comey, Cummings also released documents detailing Flynn’s negotiations with RT over his gala appearance. The documents show that on Oct. 14, an RT producer wrote she was “helping to organize the RT conference in December.”
She included an invitation to Flynn to speak at the television networks “changes in The Global News Media Landscape International conference.”
The invitation referred to Flynn as “one of the worlds’ leading voices on national security issues” and said “your presence would be invaluable.” She went on to write that: “We would be delighted if you would join our celebration and share your insights as part of the following session: “Geopolitics 2015 and Russia’s changing role in the world.” The email promised “exceptional networking opportunities.”
The email promised to cover all travel costs. Later emails would mention a speaker fee.
Rep. Adam Smith, D- Wash., said the latest revelation raise questions “about whether the White House knew it was inviting an individual who’d been paid by instruments of the Russian government into one of our most sensitive national security positions.”