Mueller’s team asks White House for Flynn records

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW ROSEN­BERG AND MATT APUZZO

WASH­ING­TON — In­ves­ti­ga­tors work­ing for the spe­cial coun­sel, Robert Mueller, re­cently asked the White House for doc­u­ments re­lated to for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn and have ques­tioned wit­nesses about whether he was se­cretly paid by the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment dur­ing the fi­nal months of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple close to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Although not a for­mal sub­poena, the doc­u­ment re­quest is the first known in­stance of Mueller’s team ask­ing the

White House to hand over records.

In in­ter­views with po­ten­tial wit­nesses in re­cent weeks, pros­e­cu­tors and FBI agents have spent hours por­ing over the de­tails of Flynn’s busi­ness deal­ings with a Turk­ish-Amer­i­can busi­ness­man who worked last year with Flynn and his now-de­funct con­sult­ing busi­ness, the Flynn In­tel Group.

The com­pany was paid $530,000 to run a cam­paign to dis­credit an op­po­nent of the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment who has been ac­cused of or­ches­trat­ing last year’s failed coup in the coun­try.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors want to know whether the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment was be­hind those pay­ments — and if the Flynn In­tel Group gave kick­backs to the busi­ness­man, Ekim Alptekin, for help­ing con­ceal the source of the money.

The line of ques­tion­ing shows that Mueller’s in­quiry has ex­panded into a fullfledged ex­am­i­na­tion of Flynn’s fi­nan­cial deal­ings, be­yond the ques­tion of whether he failed to reg­is­ter as a for­eign agent or lied about his con­ver­sa­tions and busi­ness ar­range­ments with Rus­sian of­fi­cials.

Flynn was na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser for 24 days, but his le­gal trou­bles lie at the cen­ter of a po­lit­i­cal storm that has en­gulfed Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. For months, pros­e­cu­tors have used mul­ti­ple grand ju­ries to is­sue sub­poe­nas for doc­u­ments re­lated to Flynn.

Trump has said pub­licly that Mueller should con­fine

his in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the nar­row is­sue of Rus­sia’s at­tempts to dis­rupt last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, not con­duct an ex­pan­sive in­quiry into the fi­nances of Trump or his as­so­ci­ates.

Flynn de­clined to com­ment. Ty Cobb, spe­cial coun­sel to Trump, said, “We’ve said be­fore we’re col­lab­o­rat­ing with the spe­cial coun­sel on an on­go­ing ba­sis.”

“It’s full co­op­er­a­tion mode as far as we are con­cerned,” he said.

Af­ter Flynn’s dis­missal, Trump tried to get James Comey, the FBI direc­tor, to drop the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Comey has said.

Mueller is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Trump com­mit­ted ob­struc­tion of jus­tice in press­ing for an end to the Flynn in­quiry. The pres­i­dent fired Comey on May 9.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors are ex­am­in­ing the flow of money into and out of the Flynn In­tel Group — a con­sult­ing firm Flynn founded af­ter be­ing forced out as the direc­tor of the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency — ac­cord­ing to sev­eral po­ten­tial wit­nesses who have been in­ter­viewed by pros­e­cu­tors and FBI agents.

Tak­ing money from Turkey or any for­eign gov­ern­ment is not il­le­gal. But fail­ing to reg­is­ter as a for­eign agent is a felony, and try­ing to hide the source of the money by rout­ing it through a pri­vate com­pany or some other en­tity, and then pay­ing kick­backs to the mid­dle­man, could lead to nu­mer­ous crim­i­nal charges, in­clud­ing fraud.

Pros­e­cu­tors also have asked dur­ing in­ter­views about Flynn’s speak­ing en­gage­ments for Rus­sian com­pa­nies, for which he was paid more than $65,000 in 2015, and about his com­pany’s clients — in­clud­ing work it may have done with the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment.

They also have asked about the White Can­vas Group, a data-min­ing com­pany that was re­port­edly paid $200,000 by the Trump cam­paign for un­spec­i­fied ser­vices. The Flynn In­tel Group shared of­fice space with the White Can­vas Group, which was founded by a for­mer spe­cial op­er­a­tions of­fi­cer who was a friend of Flynn’s.

VER­SION NO. 3 FOR FORMS

Flynn has now had to file three ver­sions of his fi­nan­cial-dis­clo­sure forms.

His first ver­sion did not dis­close pay­ments from Rus­sia-linked com­pa­nies. He added those pay­ments to an amended ver­sion of the forms he sub­mit­ted in March. This week he filed a new ver­sion, adding that he briefly had a con­tract with SCL Group, the par­ent com­pany of Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, a data-min­ing firm that worked with the Trump cam­paign.

Demo­cratic law­mak­ers and Trump crit­ics have seized on Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica’s role as they’ve pushed con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors to scru­ti­nize the Trump cam­paign’s data op­er­a­tion as part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion. But the Trump cam­paign has played down the firm’s in­volve­ment, with of­fi­cials say­ing they used the com­pany only for a short time for tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing and paid some of the firm’s data em­ploy­ees.

The new forms list at least $1.8 mil­lion in in­come, up from the roughly $1.4 mil­lion Flynn pre­vi­ously had re­ported. It is un­clear how much of that money was re­lated to work Flynn did on Turkey mat­ters.

Flynn’s cam­paign to dis­credit the op­po­nent of the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment, Fethul­lah Gulen, be­gan Aug. 9 last

year when his firm signed a $600,000 deal with Inovo BV, a Dutch com­pany owned by Alptekin, a Turk­ish-Amer­i­can busi­ness­man.

Gulen, a reclu­sive Mus­lim cleric, lives in ru­ral Penn­syl­va­nia.

The con­tract with Alptekin was brought in by Bi­jan Kian, an Ira­nian-Amer­i­can busi­ness­man who was one Flynn’s busi­ness part­ners. Kian, who served un­til 2011 as a direc­tor of the Ex­port-Im­port Bank, a U.S. fed­eral agency, is also un­der scru­tiny, ac­cord­ing to wit­nesses ques­tioned by Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tors. A lawyer for Kian de­clined to com­ment.

Inovo ul­ti­mately paid the Flynn In­tel Group only $530,000 and re­ceived lit­tle more than slap­dash re­search and an at­tempt to make an anti-Gulen video, which was never com­pleted. The en­tire en­ter­prise may have gone un­no­ticed if Flynn had not writ­ten an opin­ion piece ad­vo­cat­ing im­proved re­la­tions be­tween Turkey and the United States and call­ing Gulen “a shady Is­lamic mul­lah.”

The opin­ion piece ap­peared on Elec­tion Day. Soon af­ter, The Daily Caller re­vealed that the Flynn In­tel Group had a con­tract with Inovo, prompt­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment to look into Flynn’s re­la­tion­ship with Alptekin.

Au­thor­i­ties quickly de­ter­mined that Flynn had not reg­is­tered as a for­eign agent, as re­quired by law. In March, he retroac­tively reg­is­tered with the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tors have asked re­peat­edly about two pay­ments of $40,000 each that the Flynn In­tel Group made to Inovo, said wit­nesses who have been in­ter­viewed in the case.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors have in­di­cated that they sus­pect that the pay­ments were kick­backs and, in one in­ter­view, pointed to the sus­pi­cious tim­ing of the trans­fers. The first pay­ment to Inovo was made Sept. 13, four days af­ter the Dutch com­pany made its first pay­out un­der the con­tract, send­ing $200,000 to the Flynn In­tel Group.

On Oct. 11, Inovo paid the Flynn In­tel Group an ad­di­tional $185,000. Then, six days later, Flynn In­tel Group sent $40,000 to Inovo.

Alptekin said both pay­ments were re­funds for work that the Flynn In­tel Group had not com­pleted.

“Ekim main­tains that all pay­ments and re­funds were for un­ful­filled work and that they were le­gal, eth­i­cal and above board,” said Molly Toomey, a spokesman for Alptekin. She de­scribed the re­im­burse­ments as “a busi­ness de­ci­sion.”

An­other fo­cus for in­ves­ti­ga­tors is the chang­ing ex­pla­na­tion Alptekin has of­fered for why he hired Flynn. In March, he told a re­porter that Flynn had been hired “to pro­duce geopo­lit­i­cal anal­y­sis on Turkey and the re­gion” for an Is­raeli en­ergy com­pany. But in an in­ter­view with The New York Times in June, he said he wanted a cred­i­ble U.S. firm to help dis­credit Gulen, whom Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan of Turkey has blamed for the coup at­tempt.

Alptekin scoffed at the sug­ges­tion that he was a front for the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment. Inovo, he noted, was reg­is­tered in the Nether­lands, where it is dif­fi­cult to mask the own­er­ship of a com­pany. A clear pa­per trail linked the pay­ments be­tween his com­pany and the Flynn In­tel Group, he said.

“If we were try­ing to hide,” he said, “you’d think we’d be good at it.”

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Michael S. Sch­midt and Adam Gold­man of The New York Times and by Chad Day and Stephen Braun of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Flynn

Mueller

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