Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn reviewed and approved a filing to the Justice Department that he has admitted contains false statements but claims he did not read, his former attorney testified in federal court Tuesday.
Robert Kelner, of Covington & Burling, represented Flynn until last month, when Flynn hired Sidney Powell, an outspoken critic of the Justice Department.
At the trial in Alexandria of Flynn’s former business partner, Bijan Rafiekian, Kelner told jurors both men signed off on the language used when their consulting firm, the Flynn Intel Group, filed under the Foreign Agent Registration Act in 2017.
Kelner also said he did not have access to conversation transcripts that would have prompted him to ask more questions of both men about their campaign against dissident Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. But he did interview Flynn at length and speak on the phone with him several times — conversations protected by attorney-client privilege.
When Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI later that year in D.C. federal court, he admitted that the FARA filing contained lies and omissions. But after changing attorneys, he said he never actually read the filing before signing it and realized it was inaccurate only in hindsight.
Flynn’s sentencing in Washington was delayed so he could cooperate against Rafiekian; now prosecutors do not trust him to testify and may ask for him to serve jail time.
His sentencing judge set an Aug. 27 hearing to weigh Powell’s claim that his previous defense team with Covington & Burling failed to turn over to her all his defense files.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan called for Flynn’s previous defense team to be present at the hearing, along with legal ethics counsel for the D.C. bar.
In a statement, Covington & Burling said a team of two dozen lawyers has been working on handing over “hundreds of thousands of documents” to Powell with her input and should be done in ten days.
Rafiekian, also known as Bijan Kian, is accused of illegally lobbying in 2016 for Gulen’s extradition and falsely claiming the campaign was for a private Dutch company rather than Turkey’s leaders. The president of the Dutch company, Ekim Alptekin, is accused of conspiring with Rafiekian but remains at large.
Kelner said that Rafiekian insisted that “the Turkish government backed out of discussions” to fund the project and “played no role” in the actual contract.
Flynn agreed, Kelner said, except for a September meeting with Turkish ministers in New York, “where there was a bit of discussion of the . . . contract.”
Rafiekian, according to Kelner, maintained that meeting was “unrelated” to the project.
Both Flynn and Rafiekian told Kelner that an op-ed Flynn wrote and was published in the Hill newspaper the day of the 2016 election was also not part of the contract, although it focused on Gulen.
Flynn “said it was something he had wanted to do” and that the project “had focused him on these issues,” Kelner testified. Rafiekian shared the op-ed with Alptekin, he told Kelner, “for client relations reasons.” But he said Alptekin “was not happy with it and did not want it to be published.”
That narrative appears to be contradicted by an email introduced in court in which Alptekin praised the op-ed, saying, “The General is right on target.”
Likewise, Rafiekian told Covington & Burling that payments from FIG to Alptekin were refunds for unperformed work, while email traffic described them as consulting payments.
“We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what those payments were and how to accurately disclose them. We did not believe there was any evidence to support the proposition that they were refunds,” Kelner testified. “We weren’t even sure that they were consulting payments.”
Ultimately, Covington & Burling represented the payments as consulting fees in the FARA filing. Prosecutors allege they were actually kickbacks to Alptekin for acting as a cutout between FIG and the Turkish government.
While Rafiekian was “categorical” in his assertions that the Turkish government had no involvement in the project, the final FARA filing was not. Kelner said that decision was made “based on all the information we acquired.”
Shown Skype conversations in which Alptekin told Rafiekian about meetings with Turkish leaders and talked about depositing money in the bank, Kelner said he had not seen those documents before submitting the FARA filing.
But Kelner also acknowledged under cross-examination that he has “never seen any evidence to suggest” that FIG received money from the Turkish government. The FARA filing, he said, accurately reflected the information he had at the time.
Kelner said he learned through the media last week about classified evidence indicating a broader Turkish effort to influence the Trump campaign through Flynn.
“That’s news to me,” he said.
Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.