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Michael Flynn still expected to testify against ex-partner, government says

Bijan Rafekian, shown in December 2018, is accused of taking part in an illegal lobbying scheme.
Bijan Rafekian, shown in December 2018, is accused of taking part in an illegal lobbying scheme. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
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Former national security adviser Michael Flynn is still planning to testify for the Justice Department against his former business partner, Bijan Rafiekian, according to prosecutors in Alexandria federal court.

“What he’s going to testify to will lead to a logical inference” that the government of Turkey was secretly funding a lobbying effort aimed at swaying U.S. opinion on a dissident cleric, Assistant U.S. Attorney James P. Gillis said at a hearing Thursday. Flynn “ was aware” of Turkish involvement with the work of his firm, Flynn Intel Group (FIG), and “is going to go well beyond” the evidence laid out in documents, Gillis said.

Lawyers for Rafiekian — a.k.a. Bijan Kian — are seeking to have thrown out of court the evidence Flynn handed over as part of his cooperation with the government.

Flynn recently fired the law firm Covington & Burling, which handled those negotiations, and hired Sidney Powell, a conservative critic of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. President Trump praised Flynn’s choice on Twitter on Thursday, calling Powell a “GREAT LAWYER.” The president has said he has not ruled out a pardon for Flynn.

But Powell has said Flynn will continue to cooperate with the Justice Department.

Flynn, Gillis said, is a “witness” in the Turkish lobbying scheme rather than a participant. “We do not contend that General Flynn was a part of that conspiracy,” he said in court.

Flynn pleaded guilty in a federal court in the District of Columbia to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials in 2016 and admitted he also filed a false lobbying registration that obscured Turkey’s role in his firm’s work. He has not yet been sentenced.

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Defense attorneys for Rafiekian argued that in their “zealous approach to defending” Flynn, Covington overstepped.

Under its agreement with the Flynn Intel Group, attorney Mark MacDougall argued, Covington should have withdrawn from representing the firm once Flynn decided to cooperate with the government. Instead, the firm continued to represent both Flynn personally and the company. Last March, Flynn dissolved FIG, which MacDougall said was a “crime” and a “theft” that violated Rafiekian’s rights and made it harder for him to fight this case.

“Mr. Flynn became a government agent,” he said, “the most active, energetic and cooperative government agent anyone had ever seen.”

In filings and in court, the two sides sparred over the extent of Flynn’s cooperation.

Prosecutors disputed that Flynn was asked to waive his attorney-client privilege as part of his plea deal. But in court MacDougall said otherwise, citing an email in which he said prosecutors were described asking Flynn to do so.

Rafiekian and his alleged co-conspirator, a Turkish businessman named Kamil Ekim Alptekin, both maintain there was nothing illegal about FIG’s work. Alptekin “wanted the government of Turkey to be his client, that would have been fabulous, but that didn’t happen,” defense attorney Stacey Mitchell said. She said “the business deal our client hoped to get with the Turkish government didn’t come through.”

Instead, she said, Alptekin’s firm, Inovo, became a client.

The government argues Inovo was merely a cutout for Turkish officials, as evidenced by the 20 percent cut he took of FIG’s fees. But Gillis acknowledged prosecutors do not have documentary evidence that Turkey was paying the bills for the lobbying campaign, which culminated in an op-ed Flynn wrote on the day of the 2016 election denouncing cleric Fethullah Gulen.

“Given the high-ranking officials involved, it’s highly unlikely that they would produce . . . the bank statements that were sought,” Gillis said of the Turkish government.

Alptekin has not appeared in court, but through attorneys is fighting the release of his own legal documents.

Two attorneys for Flynn observed Thursday’s hearing but declined to comment on the case.

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