U.S. counterintelligence agents have investigated communications that President Donald Trump’s national security adviser had with Russian officials, according to people familiar with the matter.
Michael Flynn is the first person inside the White House under Mr. Trump whose communications are known to have faced scrutiny as part of investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Treasury Department to determine the extent of Russian government contacts with people close to Mr. Trump.
It isn’t clear when the counterintelligence inquiry began, whether it produced any incriminating evidence or if it is continuing. Mr. Flynn, a retired general who became national security adviser with Mr. Trump’s inauguration, plays a key role in setting U.S. policy toward Russia.
The report raises a host of questions, including:
- How did Flynn obtain a security clearance with this investigation pending, or if it was issued before the investigation commenced, on what basis is he retaining it?
- If the investigation is continuing, must he recuse himself from any matter involving Russia — and because that is an essential part of his job, how can he remain if an investigation is pending?
- When the president cast doubt on the Russian hacking, was this a position advanced by Flynn, who is or was the subject of the investigation?
- Were the communications at issue during the campaign, the transition or both?
- Does the intelligence community have video or audio of Flynn’s remarks in Russia at a gala for RT?
- Reuters reports, “Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser, held five phone calls with Russia’s ambassador to Washington on the day the United States retaliated for Moscow’s interference in the U.S. presidential election, three sources familiar with the matter said.” Is this part of the investigation? Does the intelligence committee know the content of those calls, not merely the fact that they occurred?
Even before the latest revelation Flynn was a highly controversial figure, in part because of his campaign rhetoric, in part because of his relationship with RT and in part because of his conspiracy-minded and virulently anti-Muslim tweets. An aide to the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), tells me, “The senator has been very clear on what he thinks about Flynn and is definitely concerned about his role in this administration broadly. He’ll be following this closely.” At the time Flynn was appointed, Cardin put out a written statement forcefully challenging the choice on many grounds. On Russia and the intelligence community, specifically, he argued:
As a staunch critic of Russia’s approach to the liberal democratic process, human rights, sovereignty and the rule of law, I am disturbed by General Flynn’s relationships and ties with Russian actors. I am concerned about General Flynn’s relationship with RT, a television network funded by the Russian government and well-known for promoting the Kremlin’s political agenda, but which Flynn has characterized as no different than CNN or MSNBC. General Flynn was paid to attend RT’s 10-year anniversary gala in Russia, where he gave a talk on world affairs and was photographed sitting next to Russian President Vladimir Putin – a photograph Mr. Putin has used repeatedly to promote his own causes.
My concerns with General Flynn are not limited to Russia. I have serious questions about the fact that while General Flynn was sitting in on the classified national security briefings given to Donald Trump since August 2016, his lobbying firm, the Flynn Intel Group, was providing foreign government clients with “all-source intelligence support.”
At the time, Flynn was reportedly representing a Dutch company owned by a Turkish businessman, a close associate of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Flynn has his hands full. A slew of national security spots remain open. He’s under scrutiny for choosing primarily military figures for the National Security Council. His views on Islam, Putin and NATO, to name a few, were repeatedly repudiated by nominees for Defense, CIA and State. Trump had to abandon the allegation, advanced apparently by Flynn, that the Russian hacking investigation was political or biased. Now an intelligence investigation gets thrown into the mix. One wonders how long the president and the rest of the administration will put up with a senior adviser who consistently appears in the news for the wrong reasons (from the administration’s point of view). At some point, he becomes more trouble than he’s worth.