Report: Trump transition team was told Flynn might need to register as a "foreign agent" over Turkey lobbying

A mandatory follow-up to Ed’s post earlier. No one has claimed that Trump personally knew of Flynn’s lobbying work for Turkey; in fact, said Sean Spicer at today’s briefing, he didn’t know. (Likewise, Mike Pence said yesterday that he didn’t learn of Flynn’s “foreign agent” status until this week.) Per the AP, though, the transition team was told months ago about Flynn’s work and the fact that he hadn’t yet registered with the DOJ as a foreign lobbyist, as the law requires.

Question: Why did no one on the team tell Trump about that before he appointed Flynn as national security advisor, knowing that this might become a scandal eventually?

Spicer confirmed that Flynn’s personal lawyer contacted Trump transition attorneys before the inauguration about the possible filing. But he added that Flynn’s representative only asked for guidance and did not provide more details about the lobbying work or Flynn’s business dealings.

Spicer said Flynn’s decision whether to file as a foreign agent was a personal matter that his own attorney would need to handle.

Among those told of Flynn’s lobbying work was Don McGahn, Trump’s campaign lawyer who served in the transition and later became White House counsel, said a person with direct knowledge of the conversations between Flynn’s representatives and the transition team.

That person, who was not authorized to describe confidential conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity, said that during discussions after the inauguration White House lawyers were told Flynn was moving ahead with plans to file as a foreign agent.

Flynn’s lawyer told the transition team that he might need to register as a foreign agent under lobbying laws and they didn’t ask him why, who he was working for, or how much he was paid? And then they made him NSA? What?

I’ve twice watched the clip below of a game Spicer doggedly trying to spin this, but I’m still not sure I grasp his point. The lobbying was perfectly legal, he notes. True — but not registering with the DOJ is illegal, even if people are rarely prosecuted for it. Either way, Spicer continues, legal advice on whether he should have registered or not was up to his personal attorney, not the incoming White House. True — but the question isn’t “Why didn’t you guys force Flynn to register?” The question is why they chose to give him a job, let alone a highly sensitive, exceptionally important, without knowing one way or another what his status was. It’d be like if Flynn told the White House that he hadn’t filed income tax returns for three years and the transition team shrugged and said, “That’s up to you and your accountant,” and then made him NSA anyway. This is basic, basic vetting.

That is, the crux of the mystery here is the decision to hire him under these circumstances, not why they didn’t advise him on registration. Surely, as a condition of appointing him to the position, they could have and should have asked for assurances that Flynn would register as a foreign lobbyist, and surely they should have gone to Trump immediately with that information so that he could digest it and decide whether he wanted to dump Flynn straightaway. As one reporter notes, Pence seemed to agree that Flynn did something wrong in failing to register when he told Fox yesterday that the news “is an affirmation of the president’s decision to ask General Flynn to resign.” Right — as luck would have it, the Kislyak mess that forced Flynn out spared Team Trump a new headache this week over having an unregistered “foreign agent” in charge of U.S. national security. Spicer, though, seems to be treating this as though Flynn really did nothing wrong, or at least nothing so wrong that the president should have been told of it ASAP to avert a surefire political mess later. How does that square with what Pence said?

Keep your eye on Pete Alexander towards the end when he asks a smart, if obvious, follow-up: If the White House didn’t care enough about Flynn’s status as an unregistered foreign agent to deny him a top job over it, how many other unregistered foreign agents in lesser positions may be working for the Trump administration right now? Who else isn’t being vetted?

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