Flynn misled Pentagon about his Russia ties, letter says

Could put former national security adviser in further legal jeopardy
Then President-elect Donald Trump with Gen. Michael Flynn at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on Dec., 21, 2016.
Then President-elect Donald Trump with Gen. Michael Flynn at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on Dec., 21, 2016.

WASHINGTON — Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, misled Pentagon investigators about his income from companies in Russia and contacts with officials there when he applied for a renewal of his top-secret security clearance last year, according to a letter released Monday by the top Democrat on the House oversight committee.

Flynn, who resigned 24 days into the Trump administration, told investigators in February 2016 that he had received no income from foreign companies and had only “insubstantial contact” with foreign nationals, according to the letter. In fact, Flynn had sat two months earlier beside President Vladimir Putin of Russia at a Moscow gala for RT, the Kremlin-financed television network, which paid Flynn more than $45,000 to attend the event and give a separate speech.

His failure to make those disclosures and his apparent attempt to mislead the Pentagon could put Flynn in further legal jeopardy. Intentionally lying to federal investigators is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Separately, he also faces legal questions over failing to properly register as a foreign agent for lobbying he did last year on behalf of Turkey while advising the Trump campaign, which is also a felony.

The House letter, written by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, was made public hours after Flynn formally rejected a subpoena from senators investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and chose to instead invoke his right against self-incrimination, a person familiar with his decision said.

Flynn had been ordered by the Senate Intelligence Committee to hand over emails and other records related to any dealings with Russians as part of that panel’s investigation into Russian election meddling. His decision to invoke his Fifth Amendment right puts him at risk of being held in contempt of Congress, which can also result in a criminal charge.

Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, did not respond to a request for comment.

The controversies surrounding the Trump White House’s ties to Russia have overshadowed the early months of the new administration, and Flynn has been at the center of the maelstrom. He is under scrutiny both by congressional committees and by federal law enforcement agencies for his ties to Russia and his business dealings with Turkey.

In February, Trump asked James Comey, then the FBI director, to end the bureau’s investigation into Flynn, a request some legal experts have said amounts to obstruction of justice.

Lawmakers had previously asserted that Flynn had failed to disclose the income he had received for the Moscow trip to obtain security clearance to work in the White House, but the letter released Monday shows he had misled investigators during a previous attempt to renew his clearance, months before Trump won election.

Cummings quoted directly from the Pentagon report detailing his clearance process. The Pentagon document itself, a “Report of Investigation” from March 2016, was not included with his letter sent to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who is the chairman of the oversight committee.

Cummings’ letter indicates that Flynn misled Pentagon investigators during the clearance process, including during an in-person interview in February 2016.

As Flynn’s legal problems have accumulated, White House officials have tried to distance themselves from him. They have also tried to shift blame, pointing out that it was during the Obama administration that his security clearance was renewed. Flynn, a former three-star general, ran the Defense Intelligence Agency from mid-2012 until 2014.

The House committee has asked the White House to turn over all documents used by Trump’s transition team to vet Flynn before naming him national security adviser, as well as any communications among Trump’s top aides about Flynn’s contacts with foreign officials.

The White House has thus far refused the request. Cummings has been pushing Chaffetz to issue a subpoena demanding the documents.

“In refusing our requests for a subpoena, you have made the same argument as President Trump — that you believe the White House bears no responsibility for vetting General Flynn for the position of national security adviser because he received his latest security clearance renewal under the Obama administration in early 2016,” Cummings wrote to Chaffetz.

In a letter to Congress last month, the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, said his office had initiated an investigation into whether Flynn failed to properly report income from foreign governments.

Previous documents released by the oversight committee revealed that Flynn was paid more than $65,000 by companies linked to Russia in 2015. In addition to RT, Flynn received $11,250 from a Russian cargo airline, Volga-Dnepr Airlines, which had been implicated in a bribery scheme involving Russian officials at the United Nations. In October 2015, he was paid another $11,250 by Kaspersky Government Security Solutions, the U.S. branch of a Russian cybersecurity firm.

Retired generals are ordinarily allowed to keep a clearance as a courtesy, but they also must report all income from foreign sources to the Pentagon. Possessing a security clearance opens up potentially lucrative jobs with government contractors, who prize the contacts and insider knowledge of retired generals.

It now appears that Flynn was not forthcoming about foreign payments during two separate reviews of his security clearance: the standard five-year renewal that took place early last year after he was already retired, and a more recent and more thorough review that took place after he was named national security adviser, a role in which he had access to almost all U.S. intelligence.

As for his refusal to comply with the Senate’s subpoena, it is now up to lawmakers to decide whether to hold him in contempt of Congress. Flynn said in March that he would talk to congressional investigators in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Lawmakers declined his offer, though they did not rule out the possibility of revisiting the issue.

Sens. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina and Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s Republican chairman and Democratic vice chairman, vowed to continue seeking the documents, as well as Flynn’s testimony.

“While we recognize General Flynn’s constitutional right to invoke the Fifth Amendment, we are disappointed he has chosen to disregard the committee’s subpoena request for documents relevant and necessary to our investigation,” they said in a joint statement. “We will vigorously pursue General Flynn’s testimony and his production of any and all pertinent materials pursuant to the committee’s authorities.”

Flynn’s decision was first reported by The Associated Press.

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