Flynn May Have Broken Law by Not Disclosing Russia Dealings, Lawmakers Say

WASHINGTON — Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser, may have violated federal law by not fully disclosing his business dealings with Russia when seeking a security clearance to work in the White House, top House oversight lawmakers from both parties asserted on Tuesday.

The revelation came after Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah and chairman of the House oversight committee, and other lawmakers on the panel examined classified documents related to Mr. Flynn, including a form he filled out in January 2016 to receive his security clearance. The form is known as an SF-86 and is required by anyone in the government who handles classified information.

As part of the review, Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s senior Democrat, said Mr. Flynn did not disclose in those documents payments totaling more than $45,000 that he received from the Russian government for giving a speech in Moscow in 2015, among others.

The development is the latest trouble for Mr. Flynn, who also did not disclose payments from Russian-linked entities on a financial disclosure form that the Trump administration released in late March. Earlier in March, Mr. Flynn filed papers acknowledging that he worked as a foreign agent last year representing the interests of the Turkish government, causing another uproar and more unfavorable headlines for the Trump administration.

Mr. Flynn was forced out as national security adviser in February after revelations that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about his conversations last year with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Ten weeks later, he continues to be a distraction for the White House.

Mr. Chaffetz said Mr. Flynn appeared to have inappropriately accepted payments from companies linked to Russia without first getting required approval from the Pentagon and the State Department. Such payments might violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits former military officers like Mr. Flynn — a retired three-star Army general — from receiving money from a foreign government without consent from Congress.

“As a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey or anybody else,” Mr. Chaffetz said. “And it appears as if he did take that money. It was inappropriate, and there are repercussions for a violation of law.”

Robert Kelner, Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, played down the significance of the allegations. He did not comment on the committee’s charge that Mr. Flynn had failed to disclose the information on the security forms.

In a statement, Mr. Kelner said that Mr. Flynn had notified the Defense Intelligence Agency, which Mr. Flynn once led, that he was taking the 2015 trip to Russia. He received a security briefing from agency officials before he left, which is customary for former top agency officials when they travel overseas.

In addition to making the speech on that trip — for which he received the $45,000 fee from RT, formerly known as Russia Today, a Kremlin-backed news network — Mr. Flynn attended the network’s lavish anniversary dinner and was photographed sitting at the elbow of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Questions persist about why the White House did not vet Mr. Flynn more carefully and take steps to make sure his security forms were filled out properly.

White House officials refused a request from the committee to turn over other internal documents related to the hiring and firing of Mr. Flynn, which would shine more light in particular on his links to Turkey.

In an April 19 letter to Mr. Chaffetz and Mr. Cummings, Marc T. Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, said the administration was withholding the documents because they “are likely to contain classified, sensitive and/or confidential information.” Mr. Short also said the White House could not release documents before the start of the administration on Jan. 20 because officials there do not have them.

“In short, the White House has refused to provide this committee with a single piece of paper in response to our bipartisan request, and that is unacceptable,” Mr. Cummings said.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said Tuesday that “to ask for every call or contact that a national security adviser made is pretty outlandish, if you will.”

The Defense Intelligence Agency is separately reviewing whether Mr. Flynn reported all foreign travel and contacts required to maintain his security clearance. While all former directors maintain a clearance, the agency suspended his access to classified information pending their review.

In March, congressional investigators led by Mr. Cummings revealed Mr. Flynn had been paid more than $65,000 by companies linked to Russia in 2015, which included the $45,000 speaking fee from RT.

Mr. Flynn also came under scrutiny for belatedly filing papers — after his departure from the Trump administration — registering as a foreign agent for his work last year lobbying on behalf of Turkey in a dispute with the United States government. He was paid more than $500,000.

Mr. Chaffetz, who announced last week that he would not run for re-election, said he does not plan to call Mr. Flynn before their panel, deferring to the Pentagon and the House Intelligence Committee, which is leading the House’s investigation into Russian interference in the election.

Mr. Flynn has offered to be interviewed by House and Senate investigators in exchange for immunity from prosecution. A spokeswoman for Representative K. Michael Conaway of Texas — the new Republican head of the House investigation — declined to comment on Tuesday on whether the oversight committee’s findings had spurred additional interest in Mr. Flynn’s testimony.

The discovery came as Congress returned from a two-week recess, during which lawmakers involved in the investigations sought to reset after weeks of partisan infighting. On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced it had invited Sally Q. Yates, the former acting attorney general, and James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, to testify next month on Russian interference.

Meanwhile, members of the Senate investigation fought off reports of its own troubles. A current and former official, both of whom have knowledge of the Senate investigation, disputed recent reports that the inquiry had stalled, but acknowledged that some Democrats on the committee have been frustrated with its pace and were pressing to move faster.

Representatives Jason Chaffetz, right, the House oversight committee chairman, and Elijah E. Cummings, the committee’s senior Democrat, at a news conference on Tuesday. Credit Al Drago/The New York Times



New twist in Trump-Russia probe as Congress turns focus to Michael Flynn

President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, probably broke federal law by failing to disclose on a 2016 security clearance application that he had done business with Russia in 2015, the chairman of the House Oversight committee said Tuesday.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, also said Flynn apparently had violated federal requirements that he seek permission for such a business arrangement from the Pentagon and the State Department. Chaffetz said neither department could provide evidence that Flynn had done so.

Chaffetz’s assessment that Flynn could face felony charges and possible jail time raises the specter that Flynn will become a key witness in the FBI’s and Congress’ investigations into whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in meddling in last year’s U.S. presidential election. Flynn already has said he will testify, if he’s granted immunity from prosecution.

Flynn’s growing importance in the Russia-Trump investigations was underscored by the announcement from another congressional committee that it would soon take testimony from former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

The Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, part of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper would appear at a public hearing May 8.

It was Yates who warned the Trump White House on Jan. 23 that Flynn might be subject to potential blackmail because he’d lied about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, whose conversations with Flynn were routinely monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies. Trump didn’t act on her warning for nearly three weeks, however, until The Washington Post reported it on Feb. 13. Within hours of the Post story’s appearance online, Flynn was fired.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who chairs the subcommittee, declined to comment. His decision to call Yates to testify marks a new twist in the Russia-gate probe. Graham has done little to hide his criticism of Trump, for whom he has publicly said he did not vote, and he’s repeatedly warned against partisanship in trying to determine how Russia tried to influence the election.

In contrast, Yates and Clapper’s first scheduled public hearing, before the House Intelligence Committee on March 28, was abruptly canceled by that committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a Trump partisan who’d served on the president’s transition team. Democrats accused Nunes of running interference for Trump after the committee’s first public hearing featured FBI director James Comey acknowledging that Trump’s possible ties to Russia had been under investigation since July.

The Senate Intelligence Committee probe was thought to be moving without similar conflict. But this week, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., questioned whether the committee, led by another Trump supporter, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., was devoting enough resources to the investigation.

Running interference for Trump is an accusation unlikely to be leveled at Graham or Chaffetz, who’ve shown little affection for the president. While Chaffetz acknowledged voting for Trump, he questioned Trump’s fitness for office last October after a video emerged of Trump boasting of grabbing women’s genitals. “I’m out. I can no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president,” Chaffetz tweeted then.

Unlike the two committees whose investigations have received the most attention – the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee – the Oversight committee probe and the work of Graham’s subcommittee have gone largely unremarked on. Yet while neither Intelligence Committee has devoted full-time staff to the investigation, Chaffetz’s Oversight committee has more than 20 full-time investigators and has been actively investigating Flynn since November.

At a news conference Tuesday with the Oversight committee’s senior Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Chaffetz said his committee was cooperating with the House Intelligence panel’s probe.

Chaffetz said that while it was clear that Flynn was required to disclose a trip to Russia in 2015 to give a speech for which he was paid $45,386 – $33,750 of which appears to have been his speaker’s fee – there is no record that that had happened.

“I see no information, or no data, to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law,” Chaffetz said. “He was supposed to seek permission and receive permission from both the secretary of state and the secretary of the Army prior to traveling to Russia, not only to accept that payment but to engage in that activity. I see no evidence that he actually did that.”

In addition, Cummings said that in Flynn’s seeking to renew his U.S. security clearance on what’s known as a Standard Form 86 he filled out in January 2016, a month after he’d made that trip to Russia, he failed to disclose the trip and the payment.

Cummings said an open exchange of information with the departments of State and Defense had yielded “no evidence he sought permission to obtain the funds from a foreign source.”

Cummings said a similar request for information from the White House had resulted in a “refusal to provide the committee with a single piece of paper.”

He noted that the security clearance form included a heading – “Penalties for Inaccurate or False Statements” – that spells out that “knowingly falsifying or concealing a material fact is a felony which may result in fines and/or up to five (5) years imprisonment.”

Flynn, a longtime intelligence officer who served under President Barack Obama as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, would have been expected to fully understand the requirements.

In March, before the possibility of any crime had been made public, Flynn offered to testify before the congressional committees in exchange for immunity from any charges in the matter. At the time, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Flynn’s offer of testimony in exchange for immunity was “a grave and momentous step . . . for a former national security adviser to the president of the United States.”

Beyond that, Flynn worked as a foreign agent for a company with close ties to the Turkish government in 2016. For that, he was paid more than $500,000, but he didn’t file as a foreign agent until March, after he was dismissed by the Trump administration.

Yates also is expected to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, but no date has been set. The committee plans first to take closed-door testimony from Comey and Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency. That hearing is set for next Tuesday, according to Rep. Mike Conaway, the Republican Texas congressman who’s taken over leading the committee’s probe. Nunes withdrew from that role when the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into whether Nunes himself had improperly revealed classified information.

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