Michael Flynn likely broke the law when he accepted payments from foreign governments and failed to disclose them on his application for a government security clearance, the bipartisan leaders of the House Oversight Committee said Tuesday.
Flynn was fired as White House national security adviser in February after he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Russia’s U.S. ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. Since he left the White House, it has been revealed that he accepted payments from foreign governments, including from the Kremlin-funded TV network Russia Today, and registered as a foreign agent because his firm lobbied on behalf of Turkey’s government.
As a former top White House aide, Flynn has become a central figure in numerous investigations, on topics ranging from the nature of his contacts with the Russian government, to whether he followed the necessary ethical steps when entering government.
On Monday, hours before the committee’s leaders held their press conference, Politico reported that the Turkish national who gave Flynn a $600,000 lobbying deal just before the president tapped him to be national security adviser has business ties to Russia, including a deal involving Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.
As a retired general, Flynn is required by the Constitution to seek permission from the government before accepting foreign payments.
“As a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey, or anybody else, and it appears as if he did take that money. It was inappropriate. And there are repercussions for the violation of law,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the committee’s Republican chairman.
Chaffetz said the committee has “no information or no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee’s top Democrat, called on Flynn to appear before the committee because he “concealed” the foreign payments.
“There is no evidence anywhere in these documents that [Flynn] reported the funds he received for his trip,” Cummings said after reviewing Flynn’s security clearance application, a form known as SF-86. “There is also no evidence that he sought permission to obtain these funds from a foreign source.”
Cummings then quoted the U.S. criminal code, which states that applicants must answer all questions on the SF-86 form “completely and truthfully,” or be imprisoned for up to five years.
Flynn responded to the revelation in a statement Tuesday through his lawyer, Robert Kelner. “As has previously been reported, General Flynn briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency, a component agency of [the Department of Defense], extensively regarding the RT speaking event trip both before and after the trip, and he answered any questions that were posted by DIA concerning the trip during those briefings,” Kelner said. The statement did not rebut the concern from lawmakers about the apparent missing information from the SF-86 form.
In a letter to the committee on Tuesday, the White House denied the panel’s request for documents relating to Flynn and his position as national security adviser. Flynn has reportedly sought immunity in exchange for testifying on Capitol Hill. So far, he has received no takers from the House or Senate intelligence committee investigations into possible Trump-Russia ties.
The House Oversight Committee has been probing for some time whether Flynn disclosed his foreign payments when he applied for a government security clearance. In March, Chaffetz and Cummings sent four separate letters to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, FBI Director James Comey, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats requesting the pertinent documents on foreign payments to and contacts with Michael Flynn, by April 3.
“Chaffetz and Cummings requested that each agency produce documents relating to Flynn’s foreign contacts and payments, security clearance applications, and other related documents between the time of his retirement in 2014 to present day,” a committee press release stated.
Marc Short, the director of legislative affairs at the White House, wrote in the letter to Chaffetz on Tuesday that they are “unable to accommodate” many of these requests, adding that some of the documents are not in their possession. Short referred other requests to the Pentagon.
“So, we have received no internal documents relating to what General Flynn reported to the White House when they vetted him to become National Security Advisor,” Cummings said. “And we have received no documents relating to his termination as National Security Advisor for concealing his discussions with the Russian Ambassador.”
As information about Flynn’s alleged failure to disclose foreign payments became public, a bipartisan group in the Senate also reaffirmed its desire to talk to the retired general.
“We’ve said from the beginning that Michael Flynn is somebody we’d like to interview,” said Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting a separate investigation into Russian interference with the U.S. elections and any potential Trump-Russia ties.
Flynn “is one on a long list of subjects we’ve got to continue to look into. It’s very troubling. It appears that not only did the general have to resign, but that he did not properly fill out his forms. We’ll have more to say,” added Sen. Mark Warner, the Democratic vice-chairman of the panel.
However, Burr did not want to telegraph when the Senate committee would want to interview Flynn.
“We want to know the scope of questions that need to be asked. In many cases, in investigations like this, you get one shot at people… We want to make sure that we’re as thorough as we possibly can be,” he said.
But on one thing, Burr was clear. When asked whether he would give Flynn immunity to testify, he had a curt, one-word answer.
“No,” the chairman said.
—Tim Mak and Gideon Resnick contributed reporting.