White House

New twist in Trump-Russia probe as Congress turns focus to Michael Flynn

White House officials ‘don’t know’ if Michael Flynn broke law

Senior lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee said former national security adviser Michael Flynn may have violated the law when he took payments from groups associated with foreign governments. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said dur
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Senior lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee said former national security adviser Michael Flynn may have violated the law when he took payments from groups associated with foreign governments. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said dur

President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, probably broke federal law by failing to disclose on a 2016 security clearance application that he had done business with Russia in 2015, the chairman of the House Oversight committee said Tuesday.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, also said Flynn apparently had violated federal requirements that he seek permission for such a business arrangement from the Pentagon and the State Department. Chaffetz said neither department could provide evidence that Flynn had done so.

Chaffetz’s assessment that Flynn could face felony charges and possible jail time raises the specter that Flynn will become a key witness in the FBI’s and Congress’ investigations into whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in meddling in last year’s U.S. presidential election. Flynn already has said he will testify, if he’s granted immunity from prosecution.

Flynn’s growing importance in the Russia-Trump investigations was underscored by the announcement from another congressional committee that it would soon take testimony from former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

The Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, part of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper would appear at a public hearing May 8.

It was Yates who warned the Trump White House on Jan. 23 that Flynn might be subject to potential blackmail because he’d lied about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, whose conversations with Flynn were routinely monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies. Trump didn’t act on her warning for nearly three weeks, however, until The Washington Post reported it on Feb. 13. Within hours of the Post story’s appearance online, Flynn was fired.

I see no information, or no data, to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law.

House Oversight Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who chairs the subcommittee, declined to comment. His decision to call Yates to testify marks a new twist in the Russia-gate probe. Graham has done little to hide his criticism of Trump, for whom he has publicly said he did not vote, and he’s repeatedly warned against partisanship in trying to determine how Russia tried to influence the election.

In contrast, Yates and Clapper’s first scheduled public hearing, before the House Intelligence Committee on March 28, was abruptly canceled by that committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a Trump partisan who’d served on the president’s transition team. Democrats accused Nunes of running interference for Trump after the committee’s first public hearing featured FBI director James Comey acknowledging that Trump’s possible ties to Russia had been under investigation since July.

The Senate Intelligence Committee probe was thought to be moving without similar conflict. But this week, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., questioned whether the committee, led by another Trump supporter, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., was devoting enough resources to the investigation.

Running interference for Trump is an accusation unlikely to be leveled at Graham or Chaffetz, who’ve shown little affection for the president. While Chaffetz acknowledged voting for Trump, he questioned Trump’s fitness for office last October after a video emerged of Trump boasting of grabbing women’s genitals. “I’m out. I can no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president,” Chaffetz tweeted then.

Unlike the two committees whose investigations have received the most attention – the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee – the Oversight committee probe and the work of Graham’s subcommittee have gone largely unremarked on. Yet while neither Intelligence Committee has devoted full-time staff to the investigation, Chaffetz’s Oversight committee has more than 20 full-time investigators and has been actively investigating Flynn since November.

At a news conference Tuesday with the Oversight committee’s senior Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Chaffetz said his committee was cooperating with the House Intelligence panel’s probe.

Speaker Paul Ryan called the ethics charges a “distraction” and said he supported House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ decision to step aside from leading the investigation into Russia's election interference.

Chaffetz said that while it was clear that Flynn was required to disclose a trip to Russia in 2015 to give a speech for which he was paid $45,386 – $33,750 of which appears to have been his speaker’s fee – there is no record that that had happened.

“I see no information, or no data, to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law,” Chaffetz said. “He was supposed to seek permission and receive permission from both the secretary of state and the secretary of the Army prior to traveling to Russia, not only to accept that payment but to engage in that activity. I see no evidence that he actually did that.”

In addition, Cummings said that in Flynn’s seeking to renew his U.S. security clearance on what’s known as a Standard Form 86 he filled out in January 2016, a month after he’d made that trip to Russia, he failed to disclose the trip and the payment.

Cummings said an open exchange of information with the departments of State and Defense had yielded “no evidence he sought permission to obtain the funds from a foreign source.”

Cummings said a similar request for information from the White House had resulted in a “refusal to provide the committee with a single piece of paper.”

He noted that the security clearance form included a heading – “Penalties for Inaccurate or False Statements” – that spells out that “knowingly falsifying or concealing a material fact is a felony which may result in fines and/or up to five (5) years imprisonment.”

Flynn, a longtime intelligence officer who served under President Barack Obama as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, would have been expected to fully understand the requirements.

In March, before the possibility of any crime had been made public, Flynn offered to testify before the congressional committees in exchange for immunity from any charges in the matter. At the time, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Flynn’s offer of testimony in exchange for immunity was “a grave and momentous step . . . for a former national security adviser to the president of the United States.”

Beyond that, Flynn worked as a foreign agent for a company with close ties to the Turkish government in 2016. For that, he was paid more than $500,000, but he didn’t file as a foreign agent until March, after he was dismissed by the Trump administration.

Yates also is expected to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, but no date has been set. The committee plans first to take closed-door testimony from Comey and Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency. That hearing is set for next Tuesday, according to Rep. Mike Conaway, the Republican Texas congressman who’s taken over leading the committee’s probe. Nunes withdrew from that role when the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into whether Nunes himself had improperly revealed classified information.

Matthew Schofield: 202-383-6066, @mattschodcnews