Trump, Inc., III: Who Was Watching Flynn?

Flynn alongside Putin at the RT gala. Also pictured in foreground, Jill Stein.

This is the third post in a series on Trump, Inc. The series is an attempt to review what we know about the president’s businesses and the actions of his surrogates. Part One was posted March 3, and Part Two was posted on March 9.

Even though Michael Flynn is no longer a member of the administration, he continues to leave questions and concerns in his wake. Flynn-watchers probably are not surprised by his brief tenure, but the person who was responsible for keeping Flynn on the straight and narrow is still at the White House, and does not seem to be doing a very good job.

Michael Flynn, who holds a record for shortest tenure as national security advisor, revealed recently that he was paid by a company with ties to the Turkish government during the Fall of 2016, while acting as a surrogate for the Trump campaign. Apparently, Flynn stopped working on this contract with Trump’s election victory, but managed to pen a pro-Erdogan op-ed in The Hill. Flynn’s work in the Fall focused on opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen. This also will not come as a surprise to Flynn watchers, but his op-ed addressed Gulen with a healthy mix of Islamist paranoia. It was also sympathetic of Erdogan’s crackdown in the country after the failed coup attempt.

As the Daily Caller notes, Flynn and his company provided scant details during the transition. Apparently, one of Flynn’s subcontractors on this assignment was involved in some internal wrangling during the Clinton email controversy (New York Times). This seems to be an isolated exchange, more indicative of the culture in DC than anything else.

As the Flynn registration reverberated through DC, outlets reported that Flynn’s attorneys twice notified White House counsel that the former general “might” need to register as a foreign agent (Washington Post). As is often noted, Flynn holds the dubious distinction of losing his job as the NSA and as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. When he was removed from the DIA, he became a vocal critic of President Obama and therefore a natural ally of Donald Trump. He also made an eyebrow raising appearance alongside Vladimir Putin. And the Army has been investigating him for not filing paperwork or reporting money received from Russia (New York Times). And, as everyone knows, he contacted the ambassador from Russia and mislead the Vice President about it. One wonders if he was truthful with the FBI.

A troubling story on Flynn last year in the Washington Post, which has not received enough attention, revealed that he disclosed highly sensitive intelligence to Pakistan. This intelligence concerned the Haqqani network, essentially an unconventional force tied to Pakistan’s intelligence agency. He received a verbal reprimand for this disclosure — showing that the culture in the Defense and Intelligence department enables dangerous irresponsibility so long as the offender has enough rank. Prior to these revelations of foreign agency, Flynn had an established pattern of acting in his own interests, as detailed above. Even if one believed that Flynn had something to offer — in the realm of intelligence analysis, management, or as a political sidekick — he should have been closely monitored. He was not.

White House Counsel Donald McGahn, briefly referenced above, seems to be negligent in his duties and it is showing results in the White House’s conduct. Jack Goldsmith, in the Daily Beast, notes that White House counsel is the legal and ethical compliance officer within the administration. McGahn, if the White House is to be believed, knew about the foreign agency issue but did not raise it to the president. When the matter of Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador was front page news, the White House insisted that McGahn had reviewed the matter and found no cause for concern — but the Press Secretary would not specify whether McGahn had reviewed the actual intercepts of these conversations. During the transition, according to AP, Flynn attended intelligence briefings even though his potential need to register as a foreign agent had been disclosed.

Here are some recent headlines and excerpts that will indicate some further questions on ethics and compliance.

CNN: “Trump’s budget director claims Obama was ‘manipulating’ jobs data”

Politico: “The president’s semi-public Florida retreat doesn’t follow the same strict background check protocol as the White House, creating an espionage risk.”

New York Times: “Want to Keep the President at Bay? Two Consultants Have an Inside Track”

Reuters: “President Donald Trump met with Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House on Tuesday … Mike Pence, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, chief of staff Reince Priebus and strategist Steve Bannon were also present.”

Bloomberg: “Kushners Set to Get $400 Million From Chinese Firm on Tower”

This last story, on the real estate deal with a prominent Chinese firm, has raised some questions. Jared Kushner has “deconflicted” his role (White House term) with his family’s business dealings. But, this has been largely symbolic. Arrangements like this in other parts of the world, with family members or trusted associates, tends to advance unethical practices. It may be happening here. Donald McGahn’s handling of Flynn, ranging from the conversations with the Russian ambassador to the disclosure of ties to the Turkish government, need to be scrutinized in detail. There seem to be more ethical and potentially legal issues as well.