The Washington Post

The mystery be­hind a Flynn as­so­ci­ate’s quiet work for Trump’s cam­paign

Jon Iadon­isi worked on Turk­ish client’s job and can­di­date’s so­cial me­dia

- BY MATEA GOLD Steven Rich con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Jon Iadon­isi, a friend and busi­ness as­so­ci­ate of for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn, had two un­der-the-radar projects un­der­way in the fall of 2016.

One of his com­pa­nies was help­ing Flynn with an in­ves­tiga­tive ef­fort for an ally of the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment — de­tails of which Flynn re­vealed only af­ter he was forced to step down from his White House post.

At the same time, Iadon­isi was also do­ing work for the Trump cam­paign, although his role was not pub­licly re­ported, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with his in­volve­ment.

The project Iadon­isi was en­gaged in for Trump’s cam­paign fo­cused on so­cial me­dia, ac­cord­ing to a per­son with knowl­edge of the ar­range­ment. What that work con­sisted of — and why his com­pany was not dis­closed as a ven­dor in cam­paign fi­nance re­ports — re­mains a mystery.

The Trump cam­paign did not re­port any pay­ments to Iadon­isi or his firms. How­ever, Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­ports show that the Trump cam­paign paid $200,000 on Dec. 5 for “data man­age­ment ser­vices” to Colt Ven­tures, a Dal­las-based ven­ture­cap­i­tal firm that is an in­vestor in VizSense, a so­cial-me­dia com­pany co-founded by Iadon­isi.

The Washington Post made re­peated in­quiries to Iadon­isi and other VizSense of­fi­cials, but none re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment.

Michael Glass­ner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Trump cam­paign com­mit­tee, said in­voices show Colt Ven­tures was paid for a so­cial-me­dia project that in­volved video-con­tent cre­ation and “mil­len­nial en­gage­ment” in the cam­paign’s fi­nal month. He de­clined to com­ment on why the pay­ment went to a ven­ture­cap­i­tal firm and whether cam­paign of­fi­cials were aware of the firm’s con­nec­tion to VizSense and Iadon­isi.

It is com­mon for po­lit­i­cal ven­dors to hire sub­con­trac­tors whose work is not pub­licly re­ported. How­ever, cam­paign com­mit­tees can­not seek to avoid dis­clo­sure by pay­ing an en­tity that does not have a le­git­i­mate re­la­tion­ship with the ul­ti­mate re­cip­i­ent, said Washington cam­paign­fi­nance lawyer Daniel Pe­ta­las, who served as the FEC’s act­ing gen­eral coun­sel and head of en­force­ment.

“A ven­ture-cap­i­tal com­pany is cer­tainly a strange en­tity for a cam­paign to be mak­ing an ex­pen­di­ture to, and I would want to look fur­ther to as­sess whether it was it an ap­pro­pri­ate re­cip­i­ent,” he said.

Colt Ven­tures was founded by Dar­ren Blan­ton, a Dal­las in­vestor who later served as an ad­viser to Trump’s tran­si­tion. Blan­ton met fre­quently with Trump strate­gist Stephen K. Bannon at Trump Tower dur­ing the cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple who saw him there. Colt also sent a re­port to Bannon about work done for the cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

It is un­clear who ap­proved the con­tract with Colt Ven­tures. Bannon de­clined to com­ment, but a White House of­fi­cial said Bannon is “not aware of any of these com­pa­nies or con­tracts.”

Blan­ton did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. How­ever, shortly af­ter the The Post first con­tacted him, Colt Ven­tures up­dated an on­line list of com­pa­nies that make up its in­vest­ment port­fo­lio and added VizSense.

VizSense, based in Plano, Tex., prom­ises on its web­site to “weaponize your brand’s in­flu­ence” through “mil­i­tary-grade influencer mar­ket­ing and in­tel­li­gence ser­vices.”

Iadon­isi, a for­mer Navy SEAL, started the com­pany in 2015 with Tim Newberry, a nu­clear en­gi­neer who served as a sub­ma­rine of­fi­cer. It was spun out of the duo’s con­sult­ing firm, White Can­vas Group, which they once de­scribed as a “a pri­va­tized DARPA,” a ref­er­ence to the Pen­tagon’s re­search arm.

White Can­vas has re­ceived nu­mer­ous Pen­tagon con­tracts, in­clud­ing nearly $150,000 last year from the Navy for “deep and dark web ca­pa­bil­ity and gap anal­y­sis,” ac­cord­ing to con­tract­ing records.

In a 2015 in­ter­view with the Dal­las Morn­ing News, Iadon­isi said VizSense helps clients track on­line video per­for­mance and iden­tify which so­cial-me­dia users drive the most traf­fic. He said he wit­nessed the power of vi­ral me­dia first­hand while serv­ing in Iraq.

“We know of a lot of bad guys who were killing my friends, and they were re­ally good at mak­ing vi­ral videos,” Iadon­isi said. “These videos cat­alyze, and now we can look at data.”

Iadon­isi, who worked with the CIA as a Navy SEAL, ac­cord­ing to an on­line bi­og­ra­phy, has close ties to Flynn, a re­tired Army lieu­tenant gen­eral with whom he served in Iraq. His LinkedIn page fea­tures an en­dorse­ment from Flynn, who called Iadon­isi “one of the best prob­lem solvers I have ever worked with” and “an in­cred­i­ble as­set for any or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

In late De­cem­ber, the of­fi­cial VizSense ac­count tweeted praise of Flynn, writ­ing that he “is go­ing to con­struct an NSC that is cus­tom built for what Amer­ica needs to be first! @DanS­cavino @GenF­lynn @re­al­Don­aldTrump.”

Flynn de­clined to com­ment through his at­tor­ney. But a per­son with knowl­edge of their re­la­tion­ship said Flynn has no stake in Iadon­isi’s com­pa­nies and re­ceived no fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit from any of Iadon­isi’s cam­paign work.

Un­til re­cently, Iadon­isi and Flynn’s firms shared an of­fice suite in Alexan­dria, Va. Flynn’s now-closed con­sul­tancy, Flynn In­tel Group, rented space from White Can­vas Group, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the ar­range­ment.

And last fall, Flynn tapped White Can­vas Group to help him in­ves­ti­gate Fethul­lah Gulen, a Turk­ish Is­lamic cleric who lives in Penn­syl­va­nia, Jus­tice Depart­ment doc­u­ments show.

The re­search was fi­nanced by a com­pany owned by Ekim Alptekin, a Turk­ish Amer­i­can busi­ness­man close to top of­fi­cials in Turkey, the doc­u­ments show. Turkey’s pres­i­dent, Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, ac­cuses Gulen for fo­ment­ing a coup at­tempt last sum­mer and wants him ex­tra­dited from the United States.

Inovo, a Nether­lands-based com­pany owned by Alptekin, paid Flynn In­tel Group $530,000 to ac­ti­vate an “in­ves­tiga­tive lab­o­ra­tory” made up of for­mer top se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials to re­search Gulen, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments Flynn filed un­der the For­eign Agents Reg­is­tra­tion Act. Flynn, in turn, paid White Can­vas Group $15,000 for “pub­lic open source re­search,” ac­cord­ing to dis­clo­sures.

In its con­tract with Inovo, Flynn In­tel Group said the Gulen in­ves­ti­ga­tion would be done by “its most se­nior prin­ci­pals,” in­clud­ing “the head of Flynn In­tel Group’s Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Cy­ber Force.”

At the time, that role ap­peared to be filled by Newberry, Iadon­isi’s part­ner and the chief ex­ec­u­tive of White Can­vas Group.

In Au­gust 2016, the same month the Inovo con­tract was signed, Newberry tem­po­rar­ily took on an ad­di­tional post: chief ex­ec­u­tive of FIG Cy­ber, a unit of Flynn In­tel Group, ac­cord­ing to his LinkedIn pro­file. He held the ti­tle un­til Novem­ber, when the Inovo con­tract ended. Newberry did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Flynn stepped down as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser in Fe­bru­ary af­ter mis­lead­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials about his con­tacts with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador. He retroac­tively reg­is­tered as a paid for­eign agent for Turk­ish in­ter­ests in March in dis­clo­sures to the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

The De­fense Depart­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral is in­ves­ti­gat­ing pay­ments Flynn re­ceived from Inovo and other for­eign groups. De­fense Depart­ment guide­lines re­quire for­mer of­fi­cers to ob­tain per­mis­sion be­fore work­ing for for­eign gov­ern­ments.

 ?? JABIN BOTS­FORD/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Mike Flynn, cen­ter, then the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, lis­tens as Pres­i­dent Trump speaks dur­ing a meet­ing at the White House in Jan­uary. Flynn has close ties to Jon Iadon­isi, whose com­pany worked on a Turk­ish con­sult­ing con­tract. Iadon­isi also aided...
JABIN BOTS­FORD/THE WASHINGTON POST Mike Flynn, cen­ter, then the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, lis­tens as Pres­i­dent Trump speaks dur­ing a meet­ing at the White House in Jan­uary. Flynn has close ties to Jon Iadon­isi, whose com­pany worked on a Turk­ish con­sult­ing con­tract. Iadon­isi also aided...

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