The Russian election meddling drama’s mystery man — former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — has not been seen publicly in nearly a half-year amid a swirl of investigations, media reports and speculation about his activities.
How different it was 12 months ago when the retired Army general took center stage at the Republican National Convention to lead a blistering chant of “lock her up” in reference to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, the failed coup attempt in Turkey last year secured him roughly a half-million dollars in consultation work.
Since then, the dramatic fall of the shortest-serving national security adviser in White House history has been well-documented, as have the unprecedented number of Washington investigations into his dealings.
The question now is: Where has he been?
“Don’t know and don’t care,” a former analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency who regularly dealt with Mr. Flynn told The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity. “He should have kept his head down, and he didn’t. What did he expect?”
Others express degrees of sympathy. “Michael Flynn is a decent man who has been turned into a scapegoat for larger issues the White House is dealing with,” a senior intelligence operative told The Times, also on the condition of anonymity.
Legal analysts say the way prosecutors or Congress handles Mr. Flynn’s ethical and professional entanglements will have a significant impact on the overall direction of the Russian meddling story that has clouded the Trump administration since the start of the year.
President Trump fired Mr. Flynn in February for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his Russian contacts. The retired general also failed to properly report having earned about $40,000 from Russia’s state TV channel RT as well as payments to his consulting firm from representatives of the Turkish government.
There is uncertainty over what offenses he might have committed and whether he knows any details about accusations that Obama-era officials targeted him for surveillance.
His absence from the public stage could reflect a behind-the-scenes battle between the White House and Mr. Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner. Considered one of Washington’s best at navigating the chaotic world of congressional investigations, Mr. Kelner has handled some of the national Republican Party’s most sensitive cases.
But the lawyer is no fan of Mr. Trump and so disliked his rise during last year’s Republican primary race that he called Trump supporters “zombies.”
Cooperating with the feds?
This spring, Mr. Kelner sought an immunity agreement for his client similar to one Congress granted Reagan administration aide Oliver North 30 years ago when he testified about the Iran-Contra affair. The deal would have allowed Mr. Flynn to tell his story on Capitol Hill, but congressional investigators denied the request.
Mr. Kelner declined to comment on whether Mr. Flynn is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russia issue, which includes charges of Democratic email hacking and accusations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Late last month, two Senate Judiciary Committee members went on record to theorize that Mr. Flynn has been cooperating.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, and Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, who have served as U.S. attorneys and state attorneys general, said they view legal actions taken by the retired general — in addition to symbolic inaction — as evidence.
“If you draw conclusions as a prosecutor about what we can see from the Flynn investigation, all the signals are suggesting that he’s already cooperating with the FBI and may have been for some time,” Mr. Whitehouse said.
“The likelihood of his cooperation is very high,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “Whether he will be truthful in cooperating, whether in fact he knows enough to justify some kind of agreement with the prosecutors, I think will be told by time.”
Regarding legal action, they noted that Mr. Flynn has appeared to clean up areas of suspected illegal activity. He retroactively corrected his Foreign Agents Registration Act listing, citing work on behalf of the Russian and Turkish governments for which he earned roughly a half-million dollars.
There were also issues with his security clearance paperwork to serve in the Trump administration. Mr. Flynn’s initial form SF-86, which national security employees must complete, failed to disclose his RT payment. But this appears to have been resolved.
These lapses were unearthed during investigations into Mr. Flynn’s dealings. This year, the Pentagon, the FBI, the House and Senate intelligence committees, the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — in a addition to hundreds of journalists from around the world and an unknown number of intelligence services — have scrutinized and speculated about Mr. Flynn’s suspected crimes.
Mr. Blumenthal pointed out that Mr. Flynn could face stiff penalties for violating the law prohibiting false statements made on his security clearance and foreign registry documents, but cooperation with federal prosecutors could reduce the sting.
There is also the matter of prosecutors from the Eastern District of Virginia issuing subpoenas to Mr. Flynn’s business associates, according to reports by several news agencies. The reports say there has been significant cooperation amid demands for “records, research, contracts, bank records, communications” regarding Mr. Flynn and his consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group.
“All the reporting on the Eastern District of Virginia subpoenas is [that they are] one hop away from Flynn,” Mr. Whitehouse told CNN. “He’s like the hole in a doughnut of subpoenas.”
This could explain his disappearance from the public stage, legal analysts say.
Vendettas, deals and Hollywood
Rumors have fueled the Flynn story since the colorful retired general emerged as a central player in the Russia drama.
These continue with the latest involving speculation the FBI’s criminal probe into his actions could be the result of a vendetta over his effort to assist a decorated counterterrorism agent who accused Andrew McCabe, now deputy FBI director, and other top officials of sexual discrimination.
Mr. Flynn’s assistance to Special Agent Robyn Gritz — which consisted of a letter on official Pentagon stationery, a public interview and an offer to testify on her behalf — was considered highly unusual, according to documents and interviews reported by the Circa online news service. The report also noted that Mr. Flynn’s actions placed him in direct confrontation with Mr. McCabe — a leading figure in the FBI’s Russia probe.
Recent revelations also placed Mr. Flynn in the center of what Newsweek called “a madcap” plan in 2015 to provide nuclear power to several oil-rich Middle Eastern countries. A Flynn trip included travel to Israel and Egypt to promote a U.S.-Russia partnership to construct nuclear reactors for civilian power needs. Potential problems have been reported as to how Mr. Flynn filed his foreign travel, contacts and business dealings with his Department of Defense superiors.
Netflix’s popular comedy combat film “War Machine” is stirring debate for its portrayal of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. The film is based on the book “The Operators,” by late Rolling Stone magazine contributor Michael Hastings, that reported on Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal.
In real life, Mr. McChrystal’s apartment address in Virginia was used as the official address for one of the companies that landed Mr. Flynn in legal trouble. In the film, Mr. McChrystal is played by Brad Pitt while Mr. Flynn is played by Anthony Michael Hall, who delivers one of the movie’s most memorable performances.
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