WASHINGTON, March 11, 2017—On Thursday night, VP Mike Pence told Fox News’ Bret Baier that it was the first time he heard about Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn having to retroactively register as a foreign agent with the Justice Department.
That the Vice President did not know about this earlier is extremely difficult to believe.
On Tuesday, former National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn filed with the Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Unit, declaring he and his company, Flynn Intel Group, Inc., earned $530,000 for lobbying on behalf of Dutch-based Inovo BV between August and November of 2016. Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, who has close ties to the Turkish government, owns Inovo.
Flynn’s Justice Department filing admits that the work done by him and his company “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”
Flynn’s company disclosed that Flynn met with two Turkish government officials in mid-September in New York at a meeting arranged by Alptekin. The Associated Press (AP) identified the two officials as Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s minister of foreign affairs, and Berat Albayrak, Turkish Energy Minister. Albayrak is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law.
Flynn’s firm admits that firm representatives then met with a representative of the House Homeland Security Committee in October to discuss other matters for other clients. However, according to the AP, during the meeting, Flynn’s firm brought up the subject of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.
On November 8, 2016, Flynn wrote an op-ed in The Hill urging U.S. support for Erdogan’s government in Turkey.
When asked Thursday whether the Trump team knew of Flynn’s lobbying when he was appointed National Security Adviser, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied that Trump or his transition team knew about it, saying, “I don’t believe that that was known.”
Thursday night on Fox News, Vice President Pence stated—twice—that he was just learning about Flynn’s lobbying on behalf of Turkish government interests.
However, the AP reported Friday that the transition knew before Trump’s inauguration that Flynn might register as foreign agent. According to what the White House is now acknowledging, Flynn’s attorneys contacted Trump attorneys regarding the issue at least once before the inauguration and once after the inauguration.
Even in Pence did not know about these contacts, it is difficult to believe that he did not know about Flynn’s lobbying for several reasons.
For one thing, there is the Election Day op-ed, which admittedly did not disclose that Flynn was actually being paid to lobby for Turkey, but is nevertheless an interesting position for a campaign official to take regarding a country not considered friendly to the U.S., especially on Election Day.
Second, Flynn’s lobbying on behalf of Turkey was widely reported, in articles in Politico on November 14, and articles in The Hill and Yahoo News on November 17, to name only a few.
Additionally, On November 18, Democratic Maryland representative Elijah Cummings sent Mike Pence, then-head of Trump’s transition, a letter alerting Pence of the apparent conflict of interest arising from Flynn’s work as a lobbyist and requesting clarifying documents.
“Recent news reports have revealed that Lt. Gen. Flynn was receiving classified briefings during the presidential campaign while his consulting group, Flynn Intel Group Inc., was being paid to lobby the U.S. Government on behalf of a foreign government’s interests,” writes Rep. Cummings.
Even if Vice President Pence had not communicated with the transition attorneys before the inauguration or White House attorneys after January 20, even if he had not read Flynn’s op-ed, even if he had not read the numerous accounts of Flynn’s ties to Turkey in the press, it is very difficult to believe the Vice President had not read a letter from a U.S. Representative and ranking member of the House Oversight Committee.
“In addition to being in the press, I warned the Vice President directly three months ago about the conflicts created by Lt. General Flynn’s company lobbying on behalf of Turkish interests,” Rep. Cummings said Friday.
One of the many questions after the Vice President’s Fox News interview is why did Pence say he was just learning about the issue when all evidence points to the contrary?
“He was the head of the transition when Mike Flynn was being vetted for the National Security Advisor job,” said Rachel Maddow on her show Friday. “He was the head of the transition when Congress formally notified the head of the transition that Mike Flynn appears to be on a foreign government’s payroll. He was the head of the transition when Mike Flynn’s personal lawyers came and told the transition that Mike Flynn maybe needed to register as a foreign agent.”