Flynn under fire as IG opens payments probe
White House cites Obama-era security clearance
The Defense Intelligence Agency explicitly warned Michael Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser, about accepting foreign payments without clearance when he retired in 2014, according to new documents released Thursday by a bipartisan congressional investigation into Mr. Flynn’s foreign payments and communications with Russian contacts.
In February the retired general resigned after just weeks on the job as Mr. Trump’s top security aide following reports he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about his dealings with Russia during the transition from the Obama to Trump administrations — particularly about discussions with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The DIA’s exit warning to Mr. Flynn was “bold, italicized and could not have been clearer,” Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, told reporters in a Capitol Hill briefing.
The briefing came as it emerged the office of the Defense Department’s inspector general was launching its own investigation into why Mr. Flynn failed to get prior approval before accepting payments from foreign interests.
Earlier this year, committee investigators revealed that, in 2015, Mr. Flynn was paid over $65,000 by companies linked to Russia, in addition to $530,000 for work his lobbying firm completed, which presumably benefited Turkey. He would later become one of candidate Trump’s closest advisers on foreign and security policy and briefly the head of the hugely influential National Security Council.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday that the probe by the Defense Department’s inspector general of Mr. Flynn is “appropriate.”
“If they think there’s wrongdoing, then the department’s inspector general should look into that,” Mr. Spicer said.
He also defended President Trump’s relationship with his controversial former aide, saying Mr. Flynn had been let go after his deceptions were revealed.
“I think the president made the right call at the right time,” Mr. Spicer said.
According to Mr. Cummings, the DIA’s Office of General Counsel sent a letter on Oct. 8, 2014, “explicitly warning Flynn, as he entered retirement, that he was prohibited by the Constitution from receiving payments from foreign sources without advance permission.”
Two days ago, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said Mr. Flynn may have broken the law by not fully disclosing payments he received from Russian TV station RT, which receives funding from the Kremlin.
“Our next step is to get the documents we are seeking from the White House so we can complete our investigation,” Mr. Cummings added Thursday. “I thank the Department of Defense for providing us with unclassified versions of these documents.”
The committee’s request for a wide range of documents related to Mr. Flynn from the White House was turned down earlier this week.
A White House spokesman said the administration does not have documents on Mr. Flynn’s activities prior to Mr. Trump’s inauguration, and those they do have from his time in the administration involve sensitive information.
In a statement, Mr. Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, declared anew on Thursday that his client briefed DIA officials before and after on his activities, The Associated Press reported.
He pointed to a letter, released in redacted form by Mr. Cummings, noting that Mr. Flynn provided a thumb drive to the agency containing documents detailing the RT event.
The Defense Department, Mr. Kelner contended, “was fully aware of the trip.” However, Mr. Cummings said Thursday that additional declassified documents viewed by the oversight committee had revealed no evidence to support that statement.
Mr. Spicer said the Obama administration bore part of the blame for the controversy, because it had renewed Mr. Flynn’s security clearance even though it was aware of the RT payments.
He said he wasn’t accusing the Obama administration of wrongdoing, but added, “I’m just making sure people understand the process and how it works.”
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (left), ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, said former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was warned by the DIA not to accept foreign payments without clearance when Mr. Flynn retired from the military.