Democrats request Pentagon probe of Flynn dinner with Putin
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 1, 2017
WASHINGTON – A group of House Democrats on Wednesday asked the Defense Department to review whether retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn broke ethics rules with a paid appearance at a Moscow gala attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Flynn brushed aside criticism of the 2015 event during the presidential campaign but the lawmakers, including the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, claim the White House national security adviser could have committed a “serious violation” of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause by accepting a payment from the state-run RT news channel.
The clause bars any retired military personnel from receiving consulting fees, gifts, travel expenses, honors or salary from a foreign government unless it is authorized by Congress, according to the Defense Department. The government can recoup the money or the department can suspend retirement pay if a violation is found.
“It is extremely concerning that Gen. Flynn chose to accept payment for appearing at a gala hosted by the propaganda arm of the Russian government, which attacked the United States in an effort to undermine our election,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., along with the top Democrats on the House Judiciary, Homeland Security, Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Government Reform committees wrote Wednesday in a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
The lawmakers also requested that by Feb. 16 the Defense Department turn over any records on Flynn’s communications with the Russia government and RT as well as any records of payments since his retirement from the Army.
The letter is part of an increasingly bitter partisan fight between Democrats and President Donald Trump’s administration, which continues to face questions over its relationships with Russia.
Flynn told the Washington Post in August that he was paid by RT for the appearance, which included an interview with one of the channel’s correspondents about radical Islam before an audience of about 200 people and produced a photograph of him sitting next to Putin.
“It was a paid speaking opportunity. I get paid so much. The speaker’s bureau got paid so much, based on our contract,” Flynn told the Post.
Flynn, who made other appearances on RT, said he used the event to press Russia on foreign affairs related to Iran. When questioned about why he appears on a state-run television news network – a Kremlin propaganda outlet, according to the U.S. intelligence community – Flynn compared it to appearing on American and other foreign news channels.
“Well, what’s CNN? … Well, what’s MSNBC? I mean, come on … what’s Al Jazeera? What’s Sky News Arabia? I have been asked by multiple organizations to be a [paid] contributor but I don’t want to be,” he said in the Post interview.