President Donald Trump pressured a “reluctant” Michael Flynn into accepting a job as the White House’s top national security official even after Flynn warned the president that he was under investigation over undisclosed lobbying on behalf of a foreign government, The Daily Beast has learned.
The president’s continued loyalty to his ousted former aide is so strong, in fact, that the two have remained in touch despite the potential that their communication could be portrayed as White House interference in a federal investigation.
Now both men could pay a huge price for it.
“He did not want to be national security adviser,” Michael Ledeen, a friend of the retired Army general, told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “He didn’t want to be in the government. He wanted to go back to private life.”
“But Trump insisted on it,” said historian Ledeen, co-author of Flynn’s 2016 book The Field of Fight, their manifesto for defeating Islamic militancy. “He likes him, he trusted him, he was comfortable with him,” he said.
Flynn was “reluctant but honored” when offered the post, according to a senior Trump administration official, and only accepted it at the president’s urging.
A third source with direct knowledge of Trump transition team discussions confirmed that Flynn did not want the national security adviser post, though he claimed Flynn was instead hoping for a position in the intelligence community, preferably director of national intelligence or the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Trump’s pressuring of Flynn to take the job came even though Flynn had informed the Trump transition team that he was under active FBI investigation over undisclosed lobbying on behalf of a Dutch company—lobbying that, Flynn now admits, may have advanced the interests of the Turkish government.
Trump’s affinity for Flynn apparently led the president to urge former FBI director James Comey, before his firing last week, to drop or ease a federal investigation of Flynn, according to Comey’s written account of a meeting with the president.
Trump Wants Flynn Back
But Trump doesn’t just hope that Flynn will beat the rap. Several sources close to Flynn and to the administration tell The Daily Beast that Trump has expressed his hopes that a resolution of the FBI’s investigation in Flynn’s favor might allow Flynn to rejoin the White House in some capacity—a scenario some of Trump’s closest advisers in and outside the West Wing have assured him absolutely should not happen.
Those sources said Trump didn’t believe Flynn should be under investigation in the first place.
“Trump feels really, really, really bad about firing him, and he genuinely thinks if the investigation is over Flynn can come back,” said one White House official.
One former FBI official and a second government official said Trump thought he owed Flynn for how things ended up and was determined to clear Flynn’s name and bring him back to the White House.
All of the officials spoke on the condition of anonymity so as to speak freely on sensitive matters.
After less than a month on the job, Flynn resigned when it was revealed that he had failed to disclose conversations with the Russian ambassador to Washington regarding U.S. sanctions against the country. Those conversations could feature prominently in ongoing FBI and congressional investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Those investigations were why Trump’s White House attorneys warned him repeatedly against communicating with Flynn after his firing, as The Daily Beast reported last week.
Apparently, the president didn’t listen to his own lawyers.
One person close to Flynn say he has kept up lines of communication since offering his resignation to “protect the president” from the growing controversy involving the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian government interests.
A longtime Trump confidant also confirmed to The Daily Beast that Trump had mentioned to him that he had communicated with Lt. Gen. Flynn in the past few weeks—long after Flynn had been given the boot from the Trump administration.
A White House staffer recalled hearing of Trump’s conversations with Flynn since his firing in February, though it was not clear what they discussed. “Supposedly they’ve spoken since Flynn was fired,” the staffer said. The president “clearly feels bad about how things went down.”
News that they remained in touch flatly contradicts repeated and adamant White House denials last week that Trump and his former national security adviser had been communicating since Flynn’s ouster. Multiple White House officials claimed to The Daily Beast that no such communication had occurred due to the intervention of White House attorneys.
The White House did not respond to questions on Thursday attempting to square that discrepancy. Flynn’s lawyer Robert Kelner also did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Trump’s apparent plea for the FBI to step back from its probe of Flynn set off allegations by congressional Democrats of potential obstruction of justice. Revelations that Trump has been in contact with Flynn—and openly mused about a new job for him—could add more heft to those allegations.
“The last thing [the White House] would want is an allegation of conspiracy, witness tampering, or coordination,” national security attorney Mark Zaid told The Daily Beast last week. “If Flynn is going to be indicted, or certainly under investigation, then I would want the president to be as far away from him as possible.”
Such conversations would create “huge issues,” according to Zaid’s law partner, Brad Moss. “Talking with witnesses got Nixon in trouble.”