This seems like a rather large oversight in the vetting process for a national security adviser, no? During the general-election campaign, Michael Flynn and his consultancy did work for a Dutch firm that may have benefited the government of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Flynn only disclosed the connection this week after a Justice Department investigation forced Flynn and his firm to register as foreign agents.
The White House insists that they knew nothing of Flynn’s work, but that raises the question — why not?
President Donald Trump was not aware that his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had worked to further the interests of the government of Turkey before appointing him, the White House says.
The comments came two days after Flynn and his firm, Flynn Intel Group Inc., filed paperwork with the Justice Department formally identifying him as a foreign agent and acknowledging that his work for a company owned by a Turkish businessman could have aided Turkey’s government. Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday called the action “an affirmation of the president’s decision to ask General Flynn to resign.”
At the White House, asked whether Trump knew about Flynn’s work before he appointed him as national security adviser, press secretary Sean Spicer said, “I don’t believe that that was known.”
Asked about the revelation by Fox’s Bret Baier, Vice President Mike Pence declined to offer his own personal feelings about the story — except that it reinforces the decision by Donald Trump to ask for Flynn’s resignation (via The Blaze):
— Fox News (@FoxNews) March 10, 2017
BAIER: The story today that former national security advisor Michael Flynn has filed with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent for making more than $500,000 as a lobbyist, essentially, for Turkey. Your reaction to that, considering that, doesn’t that mean, Mister President, that even if he didn’t lie to you about what the Russian ambassador said or didn’t say, that you would have had to fire him anyway?
PENCE: Well, let me say, hearing that story today was the first I heard of it. And I fully support the decision that President Trump made to ask for General Flynn’s resignation.
BAIER: You’re disappointed by the story?
PENCE: The first I heard of it, and I think it is, ah, it is an affirmation of the president’s decision to ask General Flynn to resign.
First, let’s point out that the work Flynn and his firm did was not directly involved with the Turkish government — at least, not officially. Their client was a firm located in Holland owned by a Turkish businessman. As Sean Spicer pointed out during the presser yesterday, there was nothing illegal about the work, or “nefarious” either, as Spicer put it — “as long as the proper paperwork was filed.”
That, however, is the rub. While the firm was based in Holland, Flynn met with Turkish government officials in September in relation to their client’s work, and the owner has ties to the Erdogan government as well. According to CBS, some of the consulting touched on a very sore point in US-Turkish relations and not just business between a Dutch firm and the US:
Flynn Intel and S.G.R. LLC Government Relations and Lobbying pressured congressional aides to investigate a cleric who Erdogan had accused of directing a botched coup last summer. The two firms orchestrated meetings with U.S. officials- including congressional staffers and Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, a Republican – as well as journalists. They also worked on research, informational materials and a video on the cleric, Fethullah Gulen.
Flynn met privately in September in New York with two senior Turkish government officials, including the government’s ministers of foreign affairs and energy. Flynn’s company did not name the officials, but the current Turkish energy minister is Berat Albayrak, who is Erdogan’s son-in-law.
Alptekin told the AP he set up the meeting at a New York hotel between Flynn and the two officials while the officials were attending U.N. sessions and a separate conference Alptekin had arranged. Alptekin is a member of a Turkish economic relations board run by an appointee of Erdogan, who has accelerated a crackdown against the nation’s weakening secularist faction since the failed coup last summer.
Small wonder, then, that the Justice Department demanded that Flynn register himself and his firm as foreign agents. Flynn resisted doing so, and his client still thinks he didn’t need to do so. “It would be different if I was working for the government of Turkey,” Alpetkin told CBS, “but I am not taking directions from anyone in the government.” Even so, Alpetkin’s membership on that economic board and the meeting with Turkish government officials raises all sorts of red flags about Flynn’s work and the potential for conflicts of interest — which is why the US requires foreign agents to register in the first place.
Let’s get back to the question of why no one discovered this before appointing Flynn as national security adviser. The incoming administration should have already looked at Flynn’s client list at his consulting business for potential land mines, given that Flynn’s consultancy would necessarily rely on leveraging his military and intelligence experience. In fact, one would have thought that the campaign would have vetted Flynn earlier than that, especially given some of the issues surrounding other early Trump campaign figures like Paul Manafort.
This is an own goal, an unforced error, which is why Pence seems to be gritting his teeth when telling Baier that he’d just heard about this for the first time. Since Flynn had already been given the boot, this is less consequential now than it might have been had that been the first issue that came out rather than the more-explicable conversation with the Russian ambassador during the transition. This should be a learning experience for the Trump administration about the need to vet even friends of the president when it comes to making appointments.