Ex to the Next
White House Lawyers Warned Trump: Stay Away From Michael Flynn
The president may have fired his national security adviser, under investigation for his Russia ties and foreign lobbying. But Trump still wants to talk with Michael Flynn.
White House lawyers have had to warn President Donald Trump repeatedly against reaching out to his fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, two people familiar with the matter tell The Daily Beast.
Trump, angered by press coverage of the Russia investigation and Gen. Flynn, has asked senior staff and the White House counsel’s office multiple times if it was appropriate to reach out to the fired National Security Adviser, according to a source close to Flynn and a Trump administration official with direct knowledge of the exchanges.
“While the president does not regret firing Gen. Flynn, he feels he is a good man who served his country bravely and honorably and who is being treated unfairly by the press and the Democrats on Capitol Hill,” another Trump administration official said. These officials requested anonymity as a condition of discussing legal advice to the president.
A White House staffer also stressed Trump’s personal affinity for his former aide. The president “clearly feels bad about how things went down,” the staffer said, referring to Flynn’s firing in February.
The White House declined to comment on discussions between the president and his attorneys. Flynn’s lawyer Robert Kelner did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The advice from White House attorneys came amid increasing scrutiny of Flynn’s role in alleged Trump campaign communications with the Russian government, which are the subject of ongoing FBI and congressional investigations.
On Wednesday evening, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced that it had subpoenaed Flynn as part of its investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian agents. Flynn and Kelner declined to provide the requested documents voluntarily when contacted last month, according to a committee statement.
If Trump spoke directly with Flynn amid ongoing investigations, it could be portrayed as witness tampering. Such conversations would create “HUGE issues,” according to national security attorney Brad Moss. “Talking with witnesses got Nixon in trouble.”
“The last thing they would want is an allegation of conspiracy, witness tampering or coordination,” said Mark Zaid, Moss’s partner, in an email. “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.”
Federal prosecutors on Tuesday escalated their probe into Flynn’s role in alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election. Hours after the White House announced the sudden firing of FBI director James Comey, shocking even White House officials, CNN reported that prosecutors had subpoenaed a number of Flynn’s business associates.
Trump fired Flynn after he ostensibly failed to reveal to vice president Mike Pence that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia in a December phone call with Moscow’s ambassador to Washington.
Now-fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates told Congress Monday that she warned the White House that Flynn was open to coercion by the Russians because he did not correctly relay what he discussed to Pence. Yates was alerted when Pence went on TV insisting that Flynn had not discussed sanctions on Russia that were being imposed as punishment over hacking the U.S. Election.
In addition to his communications with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, Flynn has faced scrutiny over a five-figure payment in late 2015 from Russia Today, or RT, a state-owned broadcaster. Flynn and his speakers bureau were paid $45,000 for a speech at RT’s tenth anniversary gala, where he sat at a table with President Vladimir Putin.
Flynn’s pre-White House business activities have also drawn legal scrutiny. In March, he belatedly disclosed to the Justice Department that lobbying work on behalf of a Dutch client last year may have advanced Turkish government interests. The White House has maintained that it had no knowledge of his foreign agent advocacy.
Despite the headaches he has caused for the White House, many people within President Trump’s inner circle are still fiercely loyal to Flynn, and view current National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and his allies with skepticism at best, and contempt at times.
Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist in the White House, grew very close to Flynn on the campaign trail, as the two found a rapport over their mutual anger towards President Obama’s approach to fighting ISIS and terrorism. It is unclear if Bannon and Flynn are still in touch, but Bannon allies told The Daily Beast that Trump’s chief strategist continues to “admire” and “love Flynn” as an ideological kindred spirit and former ally in Trump’s orbit.
Yet when Bannon was kicked off the National Security Council last month, one senior Trump administration official claimed to The Daily Beast that Bannon was “only on [NSC] to babysit [Michael] Flynn” because President Trump had been “losing faith” in his former National Security Adviser.
Trump has a long-standing habit of retaining lines of communication with confidants he has fired or left behind. According to Politico, long-time Trump consigliere Roger Stone encouraged the president to show Comey the door—a charge Trump and his close aides firmly deny. Former campaign chief Paul Manafort “told a colleague this year that he continues to speak with Trump by telephone,” the Associated Press recently reported. (The Daily Beast reported late last year that Manafort had even advised Trump on cabinet picks during the presidential transition.
Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s first campaign manager, is a frequent White House visitor, according to The New York Times. In March, The Daily Beast reported that Trump’s former deputy campaign manager David Bossie has still kept in touch with President Trump over the phone to “discuss what can be done on the outside,” according to two sources with direct knowledge of the conversations.
Even if Trump isn’t allowed to talk to his one-time national security adviser anymore, the president does want everyone to stop being so mean to him. He still speaks of Flynn in glowing terms and, as reported by Axios, has instructed aides to stop leaking negative information about Flynn to reporters.
“He was incensed by anti-Flynn leaks,” a White House source confirmed to The Daily Beast this week. “The president is not trigger-happy to throw [Flynn] under the bus like others have been eager to.”