Democratic senators want details of how White House vetted Flynn

Michael Flynn was President Trump’s national security adviser when this photo was shot Feb. 13. By the end of the day, he’d been fired.
Michael Flynn was President Trump’s national security adviser when this photo was shot Feb. 13. By the end of the day, he’d been fired. AP

Democratic members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee have asked the Trump administration to explain how it vetted retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn before he was offered the job of national security adviser.

In a March 1 letter, the four senators asked specifically whether Flynn had been subjected to a lie detector test, which is a routine feature of government security clearance, and whether he had acknowledged receiving money from a Russian television outlet that is owned by the Russian government.

The letter gave the Trump administration until March 17 to respond. The White House has yet to answer, and the senators are expected to renew their request in a second letter this week.

“Now that we know the FBI is investigating Russia’s possible ties to President Trump’s team, we need detailed answers about the vetting of General Flynn and other White House advisers because it’s critical to our national security,” one of the signers, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a statement. “The administration must address these concerns thoroughly in order to prevent future attacks and to keep our nation safe.”

President Donald Trump fired Flynn in February just 24 days into his administration after the Washington Post revealed that Flynn had been recorded conversing with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The firing came two weeks after the Justice Department had told the White House that the transcript of that conversation conflicted with what Flynn had told Vice President Mike Pence about his talks with Kislyak.

Since Flynn’s firing, it’s also been learned that he accepted more than $50,000 from entities with links to the Russian government and that he also was paid $530,000 by a Turkish company to be work that likely benefited the Turkish government.

Flynn’s Russia contacts are especially sensitive because his last role in government was as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, one of the 16 agencies that along with the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency make up the nation’s intelligence community.

“Russia’s attack on our democracy was a deliberate attempt to undermine the trust Americans have in our government,” Tester said in his statement.

The senators’ letter covers a broad range of concerns regarding Flynn and how the White House researched his background before offering him the national security adviser job. It confirms that the DIA suspended Flynn’s security clearance after he was fired.

“In particular, we are concerned that the routine checks involved in Mr. Flynn’s background investigation were not closely followed and . . . lacked the appropriate thoroughness to identify what should have been glaring red flags about his suitability to have access to sensitive and classified information,” the letter says.

It asks whether Flynn was subjected to a “Counterintelligence Scope Polygraph” and states that “It is unclear whether he was fully vetted for either secret contact with a foreign agent or the intentional compromise of U.S. government classified information.”

The letter expresses concern that failures in Flynn’s vetting process also were present in other Trump administration security clearances. It noted reports that at least six persons who’d been offered jobs by the Trump administration also failed their security screenings to work in the White House, asks how many other people had failed screenings, and whether any of those had been given jobs in other government departments.

As for Flynn, the letter asks, “Did the FBI conduct a background investigation following the election and prior to him working at the White House?” and wonders if the retired general had accurately indicated “the extent of his contact with Russian government officials” on government forms.

The letter is an indication of the spreading interest in Congress in aspects of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. While attention has been focused primarily on investigations into Russia election meddling by the House and Senate intelligence committees, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee and the Senate Homeland Security Committee also are conducting probes.

Matthew Schofield: 202-383-6066, @mattschodcnews