The White House said Friday it wasn’t responsible for making sure Michael Flynn followed the law and that the decision was a personal one.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the former national security adviser’s failure to register as a foreign agent for his work as a lobbyist on behalf of a Turkish client wasn’t a decision for the then-incoming administration to make.
Prior to the briefing, the Associated Press reported that lawyers representing Flynn told Trump’s transition team, before the inauguration, that he might have to register as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice due to his lobbying work that possibly benefited the Turkish government.
Spicer claimed that Flynn’s lawyer had indeed contacted the team for legal guidance but did not disclose more details about Flynn’s business dealings.
“The burden is on the individual to seek the legal advice or professional expertise to decide what they have to file and not,” Spicer said on Friday. “We could literally have a hypothetical question about somebody who had an inappropriate filing on their tax returns.”
Despite questions about the Trump transition team’s judgment about Flynn’s work, Spicer only addressed the fact that lawyers with the team did what he deemed they were supposed to do.
“He was a private citizen at the time,” Spicer said referring to Flynn. “And when you’re a private citizen, you’re allowed to engage in legal activities. I don’t have anything further on that, but I think there’s nothing nefarious about doing anything that’s legal as long as the proper paperwork is filed.”
Flynn registered as a lobbyist last year but did not officially file the paperwork with the DOJ until Tuesday.
Spicer was asked what this showed about President Trump’s judgment in appointing Flynn as national security adviser given the team’s knowledge of his lobbying work.
“What does this say about the transition team’s judgment about still appointing him as national security adviser when you had knowledge of this information?” asked New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush, citing how Rep. Elijah Cummings sent Vice President Mike Pence a letter last November requesting more information on Flynn’s lobbying.
“You’re asking me to forget about the legalisms,” Spicer responded. “That’s what we ask people to do is follow the law. You can’t forget about the legalisms. What I’m saying is that’s what we did. They consulted a lawyer, which everyone who had something is advised to do. That lawyer consulted the transition lawyer who said it is your job to consult the appropriate lawyers.”
Spicer was pressed again as to how the choice to appoint Flynn reflected on the White House’s judgment.
“What dealings are you referring to,” Spicer responded. “That [Flynn] had a client. He was also the head of the defense intelligence agency; unbelievably qualified. Forty years in the military with impeccable credentials. So what is it? What exactly are you getting that? Because so far, he has impeccable credentials. He had a stellar career in the military—widely respected. And I think for you to sort of—to impugn his integrity.”
On Thursday night, however, Pence said during an interview on Fox News that stories about Flynn’s lobbying work were “an affirmation of the president’s decision to ask General Flynn to resign.”
According to a Friday report in The New York Times, Flynn was paid more than $500,000 during the campaign last year and was assigned to investigate Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric in Pennsylvania, on behalf of the government of President Erdogan.
Flynn was asked to resign after less than a month on the job following a revelation that he had spoken with Russian ambassador Sergey Kisylak and misled the vice president on the nature of those talks.