Army reviewing investigation into Michael Flynn's dealings with Russia, foreign firm
By DAN LAMOTHE | The Washington Post | Published: March 13, 2021
WASHINGTON — The Defense Department's internal watchdog has concluded a long-delayed investigation into Michael Flynn, defense officials said Friday, sending its findings to the Army in a case that could bring tens of thousands of dollars in financial penalties for former president Donald Trump's first national security adviser.
The investigation focuses on Flynn's acceptance of money from Russian and Turkish interests before joining the Trump administration, a potential violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause. With few exceptions, U.S. officials, including retired service members like Flynn, are prohibited from accepting money or gifts from foreign governments. Flynn retired from the Army as a three-star general in 2014.
The inspector general's investigation, opened in April 2017, was put on hold for more than three years amid a broader scandal that included a criminal investigation of Flynn by the Justice Department — part of what would become the investigation of Trump's first presidential campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election led by former FBI director Robert Mueller III.
Flynn was fired by the Trump administration for lying to then-Vice President Mike Pence about the case, pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, later attempted to take back his plea, and ultimately was pardoned last November by Trump.
After Trump's pardon, the Justice Department gave approval for the Defense Department inspector general's office to resume its investigation, said Dwrena Allen, a spokeswoman for acting inspector general Sean O'Donnell. The watchdog's office closed its investigation one week after the Biden administration took office, and forwarded its findings to the Army.
"On January 27, 2021, we closed our investigation against LTG Flynn and forwarded several administrative matters to the Acting Secretary of the Army for review and appropriate action," Allen's statement said. LTG stands for lieutenant general, Flynn's rank at retirement.
A lawyer for Flynn, Sidney Powell, did not respond to requests for comment.
Transmission of the investigation to the Army, which has not been previously reported, leaves military officials grappling with how to handle a politically polarizing officer who in recent months alarmed the Pentagon by falsely suggesting to Trump that, as commander in chief, he could declare martial law and force a "rerun" of the presidential election in swing states that went for President Joe Biden. Such a move could have plunged the nation into an unprecedented crisis.
Similar investigations of Trump administration officials have been released since the former president left office. Among them was a delayed Defense Department review that found retired Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, a former White House doctor, had bullied staff, made inappropriate remarks about a female subordinate and engaged in "inappropriate conduct involving the use of alcohol" on two foreign presidential visits. Jackson, who is closely aligned with Trump, won a congressional seat as a Republican in Texas in November before the investigation was released.
An Army spokeswoman, Col. Cathy Wilkinson, acknowledged that acting Army secretary John Whitley had received the case for review.
"We do not have any additional information for you at this time," Wilkinson said in an email on Friday.
The payment to Flynn from Russia dates to 2015, when the retired general appeared alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a gala dinner for RT, a Kremlin-controlled media organization. He was paid $45,000 for doing so.
Flynn later disclosed that he also worked as a foreign agent representing Turkish interests for the Netherlands-based company, Inovo BV, which paid his company, Flynn Intel Group, $530,000 in 2016. The company was founded by Kamil Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman, and lobbies on behalf of the Turkish government.
In 2017, a lawyer representing Flynn at the time, Robert Kelner, said that the general had communicated with the Defense Intelligence Agency before and after his trip to Russia, and argued that Flynn met the requirements to accept foreign money. Military officials confirmed in a letter to Congress that year that Flynn had done so, stating, though, that they had no record of him seeking permission.
Separately, the Defense Department said in 2017 that Flynn did not seek permission from the U.S. government to work as a paid foreign agent for Turkish interests.
Defense Department guidelines warn that it "may pursue debt collection" if a retired service member does not secure approval to accept foreign payments before doing so. Collection due to an emoluments violation is capped at no more than what an individual made in retirement pay during a period of unauthorized employment.
Flynn, whose retirement pay is more than $10,000 per month, worked for Inovo for three months.