25th National Security Advisor
Organization: White House
Date of Birth: 24 December 1958
Age: 64 years old
Place of Birth: Middletown, Rhode Island, U.S.
Zodiac sign: Capricorn
Activity: Retired United States Army lieutenant general who was the 25th National Security Advisor for the first 22 days of the Trump administration until his forced resignation.
Michael Thomas Flynn (born December 24, 1958) is a retired United States Army lieutenant general who was the 25th National Security Advisor for the first 22 days of the Trump administration until his forced resignation.
Flynn's military career included a key role in shaping U.S. counterterrorism strategy and dismantling insurgent networks in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, and he was given numerous combat arms, conventional, and special operations senior intelligence assignments. He served as the 18th Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, from July 2012 until his forced retirement from the military in August 2014.
After leaving the military, he established Flynn Intel Group, which provided intelligence services for businesses and governments, including in Turkey. In 2017, Flynn registered as a foreign agent, acknowledging that in 2016 he had conducted paid lobbying work that may have benefited Turkey's government.
Flynn served as a senior advisor to Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. On January 22, 2017, Flynn was sworn in as the National Security Advisor. On February 13, 2017, he resigned after information surfaced that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature and content of his communications with Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. Flynn's tenure as the National Security Advisor is the shortest in the history of the position.
In December 2017, Flynn appeared in federal court to formalize a deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller to plead guilty to a felony count of "willfully and knowingly" making false statements to the FBI. Flynn agreed to cooperate with the Special Counsel's investigation. Flynn reiterated his guilty plea in December 2018, then attempted to withdraw his guilty plea in January 2020. The United States Department of Justice announced in May 2020 that it was dropping all charges against Flynn, but a federal court judge ordered the matter to be placed on hold.
Michael Thomas Flynn was born and raised in Middletown, Rhode Island, one of nine siblings born to Helen Frances (née Andrews), who worked in real estate, and Charles Francis Flynn, a small-town banker, both Catholics of Irish descent.
Flynn graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a Bachelor of Science degree in management science in 1981 and was a Distinguished Military Graduate of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. He also earned a Master of Business Administration in Telecommunications from Golden Gate University, a Master of Military Art and Science from the United States Army Command and General Staff College, and a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College. He is a graduate of the Military Intelligence Officer Basic Course, Ranger School, Military Intelligence Officer Advanced Course, Army Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies, and Naval War College.
Flynn was commissioned in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant in military intelligence in 1981. His military assignments included multiple tours at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with the 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, and Joint Special Operations Command, where he deployed for the invasion of Grenada and Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. He also served with the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and the Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
Flynn served as the assistant chief of staff, G2, XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, from June 2001 and the director of intelligence at the Joint Task Force 180 in Afghanistan until July 2002. He commanded the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade from June 2002 to June 2004 and was the director of intelligence for Joint Special Operations Command from July 2004 to June 2007, with service in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) and the Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom). The subject and his superior, General McChrystal, streamlined all intelligence so as to increase the tempo of operations and degrade the networks of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. He served as the director of intelligence of the United States Central Command from June 2007 to July 2008, as the director of intelligence of the Joint Staff from July 2008 to June 2009, then the director of intelligence of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan from June 2009 to October 2010. Flynn was reprimanded for sharing classified U.S. intelligence information on the Haqqani network to Pakistani officials in 2009 or 2010. The network, which had been accused of attacking American troops, was a proxy ally of Pakistan.
On November 10, 2015, Flynn gave an interview to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) Lessons Learned project. Washington Post published an audio recording of the interview and SIGAR's summary as part of the Afghanistan Papers.
Defense Intelligence Agency
Flynn speaks during the change of directorship for the Defense Intelligence Agency on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C.
In September 2011, Flynn was promoted to Lieutenant General and assigned as assistant director of national intelligence in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. On April 17, 2012, President Barack Obama nominated Flynn to be the 18th director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Flynn took command of the DIA in July 2012. He simultaneously became commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, and chair of the Military Intelligence Board.
In October 2012, Flynn announced plans to release his paper "VISION2020: Accelerating Change Through Integration", a look at changes he believes are necessary for the DIA in the future.
In June 2013, Michael Flynn became the first U.S. officer to be allowed inside the Russian military intelligence (GRU) headquarters in Moscow, where he arrived at the invitation of the GRU chief General Igor Sergun. His follow-up trip to visit the GRU HQ as Director of DIA was not allowed. Flynn also wanted to invite high-ranking GRU officials to the U.S., but this idea was rejected by the director of national intelligence, James Clapper.
Stefan Halper, who worked for three Republican presidents and was a longtime informant for the American intelligence community, had a February 2014 encounter with Flynn at a London intelligence conference. Halper became so alarmed by Flynn's close association with a Russian woman that a Halper associate expressed concerns to American authorities that Flynn may have been compromised by Russian intelligence.
Colleagues were concerned with Flynn's chaotic management style and increasingly hard-edged views about counterterrorism, and his superiors viewed him as insubordinate, according to Pentagon officials. In mid-2014, his two-year term at the DIA was not extended.
Retirement from the military
On April 30, 2014, Flynn announced his retirement effective later that year, about a year earlier than he had been scheduled to leave his position. He was reportedly effectively forced out of the DIA after clashing with superiors over his allegedly chaotic management style and vision for the agency. In a private e-mail that was leaked online, Colin Powell said he had heard in the DIA (apparently from later DIA director Vincent R. Stewart) that Flynn was fired because he was "abusive with staff, didn't listen, worked against policy, bad management, etc." According to The New York Times, Flynn exhibited a loose relationship with the truth, leading his subordinates to refer to Flynn's repeated dubious assertions as "Flynn facts".
According to what Flynn had said in one final interview as DIA director, he felt like a lone voice in thinking the United States was less safe from the threat of Islamic terrorism in 2014 than it was prior to the 9/11 attacks; he went on to believe he was pressed into retirement for questioning the Obama administration's public narrative that Al Qaeda was close to defeat. Journalist Seymour Hersh wrote that "Flynn confirmed [to Hersh] that his agency had sent a constant stream of classified warnings ... about the dire consequences of toppling [Syrian President] Assad." Flynn recounted that his agency was producing intelligence reports indicating that radical Islamists were the main force in the Syrian insurgency and "that Turkey was looking the other way when it came to the growth of the Islamic State inside Syria". According to Flynn, these reports "got enormous pushback from the Obama administration", who he felt "did not want to hear the truth". According to former DIA official W. Patrick Lang: "Flynn incurred the wrath of the White House by insisting on telling the truth about Syria ... they shoved him out. He wouldn't shut up." In an interview with Al Jazeera, Flynn criticized the Obama administration for its delay in supporting the opposition in Syria, thereby allowing for the growth of Al-Nusra and other extremist forces: "when you don't get in and help somebody, they're gonna find other means to achieve their goals" and that "we should have done more earlier on in this effort, you know, than we did."
Flynn retired from the U.S. Army with 33 years of service on August 7, 2014.
Flynn, with his son Michael G. Flynn, ran the Flynn Intel Group Inc, which provided intelligence services for businesses and governments. The company was founded in the fall of 2014, restarted in June 2015 as a Delaware company, and closed in 2016.
Flynn was paid more than $65,000 by companies connected to Russia in 2015, including $11,250 each from Volga-Dnepr Airlines and the U.S. subsidiary of Kaspersky Lab. Other clients included Palo Alto Networks, Francisco Partners, Brainwave Science and Adobe Systems.
While working as a consultant, Flynn served on the board of several organizations, including GreenZone Systems, Patriot Capital, Brainwave, Drone Aviation and OSY Technologies. Subsidiaries of the Flynn Intel Group included FIG Cyber Inc, headed by Timothy Newberry, and FIG Aviation.
In July 2018, the consulting firm Stonington Global LLC announced that Flynn was joining the firm as its director of global strategy, though Flynn's attorneys disputed that there had ever been a partnership several hours later.
Flynn's former business associate Bijan Rafiekian was charged with illegally acting as an unregistered agent of Turkey. In 2019, a federal judge threw out the guilty verdicts against Rafiekian, citing insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction on either count.
In July 2016, Flynn spoke at a meeting of ACT! for America at a point when the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was still underway. He spoke favorably of the coup participants, saying that Erdoğan had been moving Turkey away from secularism and towards Islamism and that participants in the coup wanted Turkey to be and to be seen as a secular nation—a goal "worth clapping for".
By the end of September 2016, Flynn's consulting company was hired by Inovo BV, a company owned by Kamil Ekim Alptekin, the Chair of the Turkish-American Business Council, which is an arm of the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey (DEIK). The company has links to President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Flynn was paid $530,000 by Alptekin for Flynn's lobbying work. Flynn only registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department later on March 8, 2017, for the work completed by November 2016. Flynn acknowledged his work may have benefited Turkey's government.
On November 8 (election day in the United States), an op-ed written by Flynn was published by The Hill, calling for U.S. backing for Erdoğan's government and criticizing the regime's opponent, Fethullah Gülen, alleging that Gülen headed a "vast global network" that fit the description of "a dangerous sleeper terror network". At the time, Flynn did not disclose that his consulting firm had received funds from a company with ties to the Turkish government. After Flynn's ties had been disclosed by The Daily Caller, Politico, and others, the editor of The Hill added a note to Flynn's op-ed, stating that Flynn had failed to disclose that he had been engaged at the time in "consulting work that might have aided the government of Turkey", that his firm had received payments from a company with close ties to the Turkish government, or that the company had reviewed the draft of the op-ed before it was submitted to The Hill.
On March 24, 2017, former Director of the CIA James Woolsey said that in September 2016 Flynn, while working for the Trump presidential campaign, had attended a meeting in a New York hotel with Turkish officials including foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and energy minister Berat Albayrak, son-in-law of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and had discussed abducting Fethullah Gülen and sending him to Turkey, bypassing the U.S. extradition legal process.
Flynn sat in on classified national security briefings with then-candidate Trump at the same time that Flynn was working for foreign clients, which raises ethical concerns and conflicts of interest. Flynn was paid at least $5,000 to serve as a consultant to a U.S.-Russian project to build 40 nuclear reactors across the Middle East, which Flynn's failure to disclose was flagged by Representatives Elijah Cummings and Eliot Engel as a possible violation of federal law.
Attendance at RT gala dinner
In December 2015, Flynn attended RT's 10th anniversary gala. Flynn is sitting next to Vladimir Putin during the dinner. Jill Stein (in the foreground) and Mikhail Gorbachev (in background) also attended.
On December 10, 2015, Flynn attended a gala dinner in Moscow in honor of RT (formerly "Russia Today"), a Russian government-owned English-language media outlet, on which he made semi-regular appearances as an analyst after he retired from U.S. government service.
Flynn sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the dinner, leading journalist Michael Crowley of Politico to report that "at a moment of semi-hostility between the U.S. and Russia, the presence of such an important figure at Putin's table startled" U.S. officials. As part of the festivities, Flynn gave a talk on world affairs for which he was paid at least $45,000. Flynn defended the RT payment in an interview with Michael Isikoff.
On February 1, 2017, the ranking Democratic members on six House committees sent a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, requesting a Department of Defense investigation into Flynn's connection to RT. The legislators expressed concern that Flynn had violated the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution by accepting money from RT.
According to Representative Elijah Cummings of the House Oversight Committee, Flynn in February 2016 had reported to the Defense Department that he had not been paid by foreign companies, and also reported "insubstantial contact" with foreigners. Glenn A. Fine, the acting Defense Department Inspector General, confirmed the investigation of Flynn.
2016 U.S. presidential election
Having already been consulted regarding national security by Carly Fiorina as well as other candidates, including Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump, Flynn was asked in February 2016 to serve as an adviser to the Trump campaign.
In July 2016, it was reported he was being considered as Trump's running mate; Flynn later confirmed that he had submitted vetting documents to the campaign and, although a registered Democrat, was willing to accept the Republican vice-presidential nomination if chosen. However, Trump instead selected Indiana Governor Mike Pence.
As one of the keynote speakers during the first night of the 2016 Republican National Convention, Flynn gave what the Los Angeles Times described as a "fiery" speech, in which he said: "We are tired of Obama's empty speeches and his misguided rhetoric. This, this has caused the world to have no respect for America's word, nor does it fear our might"; he accused Obama of choosing to conceal the actions of Osama bin Laden and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Flynn went on to criticize political correctness and joined the crowd in a chant of "U-S-A! U-S-A!". During the chants, he told those in the audience, "Get fired up! This is about our country."
During the speech, Flynn launched a blistering attack on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He led the crowd in chants of "Lock her up!"; during one of those chants, he encouraged the crowd to keep it up, saying, "Damn right! Exactly right! There is nothing wrong with that!" He called for Clinton to withdraw from the race, saying that "if I did a tenth of what she did, I'd be in jail today." He repeated in subsequent interviews that she should be "locked up". While campaigning for Trump, Flynn also referred to Clinton as the "enemy camp". Six days after the speech, Flynn stirred up a controversy by retweeting anti-Semitic remarks, which he later apologized for and claimed were unintentional. During the election campaign, Flynn used Twitter to post links to negative stories about Clinton, like the Pizzagate conspiracy theory.
Flynn was once opposed to waterboarding and other extreme interrogation techniques that have now been banned; however, according to an August 2016 Washington Post article, he said at one point, in the context of Trump's apparent openness to reinstating such techniques, that he "would be reluctant to take options off the table". In May 2016, an Al Jazeera reporter asked Flynn if he would support Trump's stated plan to "take out [the] families" of people suspected of being involved in terrorism. In response, Flynn said, "I would have to see the circumstances of that situation." In an interview with Al Jazeera, Flynn criticized the U.S. reliance on drones as a failed strategy, saying "what we have is this continued investment in conflict. The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just ... fuels the conflict."
On August 16, 2016, the FBI opened a case on Flynn as part of its Crossfire Hurricane investigation. The purpose of the investigation was to find out if Flynn was knowingly or unknowingly "involved in activity on behalf of the Russian Federation which may constitute a federal crime or threat to the national security" of the United States. A review of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, done by Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, was completed in December 2019. It concluded that "the quantum of information articulated by the FBI to open" the individual investigation on Flynn "was sufficient to satisfy the low threshold established by the [Justice] Department and the FBI". The review "did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions to open" the investigation against Flynn.
The Trump transition team during the campaign, chaired by Chris Christie, opposed Flynn serving as National Security Adviser or in any other high-level position because he was viewed as "a loose cannon".
Advocacy of technology transfer to Saudi Arabia
During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign of Donald Trump, and subsequently, Flynn and Jared Kushner were engaged in promoting IP3 International's plan to transfer nuclear technology from the US to Saudi Arabia, for use in a proposed joint US-French-Russian-British project, in possible violation of the law.
National Security Advisor
Trump administration transition
On November 10, 2016, President Obama warned President-elect Trump against hiring Flynn. During their meeting in the Oval Office two days after the election, Obama expressed "profound concerns" about hiring Flynn to a sensitive, high-level national security post. On January 4, 2017, Flynn informed transition team counsel Don McGahn, soon to become the White House Counsel, that he was under federal investigation for secret lobbying work he had done for Turkey during the campaign. Trump later questioned in May 2019 why he had not been told Flynn was under investigation so he could have removed Flynn from his team. Similar to how he deflected questions about Flynn's truthfulness on government forms, Sean Spicer attempted to discredit the Obama administration by questioning why, if they believed Flynn to be a national-security risk, had failed to revoke Flynn's security clearance.
On November 18, 2016, Flynn accepted Trump's offer for the position of National Security Advisor. Prior to his appointment, media sources including The Washington Post and Associated Press had already criticized his close relations with Russia, and his promotion of anti-Clinton conspiracy theories and fake news during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In December 2016, Flynn met with Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the right-wing populist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), at Trump Tower in New York.
Ten days before the inauguration of Donald Trump, Flynn told then-National Security Advisor Susan Rice not to proceed with a planned invasion of Raqqa using Kurdish People's Protection Units. Flynn's decision would delay the campaign—which had taken seven months to plan—for several more months, but was consistent with Turkish objections to working with Kurdish troops.
Contacts with the Russian ambassador
Flynn's history with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak dated to 2013; they met when Kislyak coordinated Flynn's trip to Moscow for Flynn's work with the Defense Intelligence Agency.
As stated in the Mueller Report (Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election, published in 2019): Flynn met with Kislyak at Trump Tower on November 30, 2016, along with Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner. No agreement was made during the meeting. Kislyak wanted Russian generals to discuss the topic of American policy in Syria with the Trump transition team on a secure channel, however Flynn said the Trump transition team did not possess such channels in their offices. Kushner wanted to use secure channels at the Russian embassy, but Kislyak declined. U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted Kislyak's report to Russian officials regarding the meeting, reported The Washington Post in May 2017.
On December 22, Flynn urged Kislyak to have Russia oppose or delay a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in Palestine. Flynn was one of several members of the Trump transition team who contacted foreign governments to do so; Trump was also part of the effort. Flynn was instructed by Kushner to do so, reported CBS News. As reported by CNN, the Israeli government had asked the Obama administration to veto the resolution, to no avail; as a result, the Israeli government had asked the Trump transition team to influence the Obama administration to put forth a veto. On December 23, Kislyak told Flynn that Russia would not oppose such a resolution. The U.S. under the Obama administration abstained from voting, and the resolution passed.
On December 28, U.S. media reported that the Obama administration was preparing to implement retaliatory measures in response to the interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign by the Russian government. Kislyak sent a text to Flynn, asking for a call between them. The sanctions were announced by the Obama administration on December 29, including the expulsion of 35 suspected Russian intelligence agents. Flynn had no advance knowledge of the measures, being only informed by the Obama administration once the measures were officially announced. At the time, Flynn was holidaying in the Dominican Republic, with Trump and several of his advisers in Trump's Mar-a-Lago property in Florida. The Trump transition team discussed the "impact" that the sanctions would have on the incoming Trump administration; Trump's advisers feared that the Obama administration's sanctions would damage Russia-U.S. relations. Trump publicly called for the U.S. to "move on".
According to the Mueller Report: on December 29, Flynn sent a message to an aide, that a "tit for tat" with Russia was "not good", and acknowledging that Kislyak would contact him that day. Incoming deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, who was at Mar-a-Lago, informed Trump transition team members Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus that Flynn was going to talk to Kislyak that day; she later told investigators. McFarland and Flynn talked on the phone regarding how the sanctions could affect the foreign policy objectives of the incoming Trump administration. McFarland and Flynn discussed that the Trump transition team members in Mar-a-Lago wanted to avoid Russia escalating the situation. "They both understood that Flynn would relay a message to Kislyak in hopes of making sure the situation would not get out of hand", stated the Mueller Report.
After talking to McFarland, Flynn immediately proceeded to call Kisylak. Flynn told Kisylak that "what I would ask you guys to do ... make sure that you convey this ... do not uh, allow this [Obama] administration to box us in, right now, okay?" Referring to the Obama administration's measures against the "current issue of the cyber stuff", including that "they're gonna dismiss some number of Russians out of the country", Flynn urged Kisylak to have the Russians respond in a "reciprocal" manner: "don't go any further than you have to. Because I don't want us to get into something that has to escalate, on a, you know, on a tit-for-tat." After Kisylak brings up that the Russian agencies "FSB and GRU ... are sanctioned", Flynn again urges a response on "an even basis", saying "we know that we're not going to escalate this thing" and that he did not want the Russians to "shut down every embassy".
After talking to Kisylak, Flynn informed McFarland of what he had discussed with Kisylak. The December 29 conversation between Flynn and Kislyak was intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies who routinely monitor Kislyak. Transcripts of the Flynn-Kislyak conversations exist; the Trump administration in May 2020 released transcripts of the December 23th, 29th, 31st, 2016 conversations and the January 12th, 2017 conversation, as well as a January 19th, 2017 voicemail.
On December 30, Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov declared Russia would deploy retaliatory sanctions on the U.S. Later on the same day, President of Russia Vladimir Putin changed course by stating that Russia "would not take retaliatory measures" to the U.S. sanctions at the time. On December 31, Kislyak called Flynn again, where he informed Flynn that Putin had not retaliated because Putin had accepted Flynn's request. Flynn told McFarland he thought his conversation with Kislyak had made a positive impact on the situation.
The Obama administration was astonished by Russia's decision not to retaliate, while president-elect Trump publicly praised the Russian reaction. Obama administration officials discovered on January 2 that Flynn had spoken to Kislyak multiple times after Kislyak was informed of the U.S sanctions on December 29, reported The New York Times. The Flynn-Kislyak phone conversation was reportedly viewed by Obama advisers who had been briefed on its content by the FBI with suspicion as possibly a secret deal between the incoming team and Moscow, which could have violated the dormant Logan Act which bars unauthorized U.S. citizens from negotiating with foreign powers in disputes with the United States.
On January 12, columnist David Ignatius, writing for The Washington Post, made public that Flynn had called Kislyak on December 29, citing a "senior U.S. government official". Ignatius pointed out that this was the same day the U.S. announced the sanctions against Russia, and questioned if Flynn had said anything to "undercut the U.S. sanctions". According to the Mueller Report, the following events happened: Trump reacted angrily to the article by The Washington Post. Trump's incoming chief-of-staff, Reince Priebus, told Flynn of this, stating: "Kill the story". Flynn instructed aide McFarland to lie to The Washington Post that Flynn had not discussed the sanctions with Kislyak on December 29. McFarland knew this was false, but followed Flynn's instructions. Accordingly, The Washington Post reported the denial.
According to the Mueller Report, in the following days, Flynn proceeded to lie about not discussing the sanctions with Kislyak to incoming chief-of-staff Reince Priebus, incoming press secretary Sean Spicer, and vice president-elect Mike Pence. The trio publicly parroted Flynn's falsehood to the media, not knowing it was false. On January 13, Spicer said the Flynn-Kisylak call was only "centered on the logistics" of setting up a Trump-Putin call after Trump became president. On January 15, Priebus said: "I have talked to General Flynn. None of that came up, and the subject matter of sanctions or the actions taken by the Obama administration did not come up in the conversation." On January 15, Pence said he had discussed the matter with Flynn, and that the Flynn-Kisylak call "did not discuss anything having to do with the United States' decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia". As a result, the Obama administration officials feared that these publicly stated falsehoods would result in "a compromise situation for Flynn because the Department of Justice assessed that the Russian government could prove Flynn lied", stated the Mueller Report.
When he was national security adviser, Flynn urged the U.S. Department of Defense to set up a military communication channel with Russia to protect American and Russian air forces from each other in Syria, and possibly cooperate to take on the Islamic State, reported The Daily Beast website in July 2017. The Department of Defense and U.S. Central Command rejected the idea, reported the website. The National Defense Authorization Act, from 2015, had banned the U.S. from cooperating in military matters with Russia unless the Secretary of Defense allowed an exception.
Flynn was an important link in the connections between Putin and Trump in the "Ukraine peace plan", an unofficial plan "organized outside regular diplomatic channels ... at the behest of top aides to President Putin". This plan, aimed at easing the sanctions imposed on Russia, progressed from Putin and his advisors to Ukrainian politician Andrey Artemenko, Felix Sater, Michael Cohen, and Flynn, where he would have then presented it to Trump. The New York Times reported that Sater delivered the plan "in a sealed envelope" to Cohen, who then passed it on to Flynn in February 2017, just before his resignation.
Investigations during his tenure
On January 22, 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported that Flynn was under investigation by U.S. counterintelligence agents for his communications with Russian officials.
On January 23, Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer, in his first press conference, said Flynn had not discussed U.S sanctions with Kislyak, citing a conversation with Flynn on January 22. According to the Mueller Report, Spicer was unaware this statement was false; this statement "added to the Department of Justice's concerns that Russia had leverage over Flynn based on his lies and could use that derogatory information to compromise him."
In January 2017, then-FBI director James Comey decided to send FBI agents to interview Flynn. Knowing Flynn had asked ambassador Kislyak to make sure Russia not respond harshly to U.S. sanctions, and knowing also that Flynn had told Mike Pence and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus he had not made this request, Comey decided that Flynn needed to be investigated to make sure he was not acting under Russian influence. Comey asked for Flynn to be called directly to arrange the meeting, instead of following the usual protocol of attempting to arrange a meeting with Flynn through the White House counsel's office. Comey would later state that the usual protocol would have been expected "in an administration where the rhythm of the context between the FBI and the White House was more established".
Another FBI agent, believed to be E. W. Priestap, an assistant director who was involved with the Flynn investigation, reviewed plans for the meeting and wrote, "What is our goal? Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?" The agent also wrote, "We regularly show subjects evidence, with the goal of getting them to admit their wrongdoing ... I don't see how getting someone to admit their wrongdoing is going easy on him ... If we get him to admit to breaking the Logan Act, give facts to DOJ & have them decide. Or, if he initially lies, then we present him redacted & he admits it, document for DOJ, & let them decide how to address it ... If we're seen as playing games, [the White House] will be furious. Protect our institution by not playing games."
Then-deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe called Flynn on January 24, asking him to meet two FBI agents; Flynn agreed. McCabe also asked if Flynn wanted a lawyer present, to which Flynn said no. The two agents, Peter Strzok and Joe Pientka, met Flynn at his office later that day. Before the meeting, McCabe, Strzok and Pientka considered whether to remind Flynn beforehand that lying to the FBI during an interview was a crime, but decided against it because "they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving warning might adversely affect the rapport," according to a statement later put out by Flynn's lawyers, based on internal FBI documents.
During the meeting, the FBI agents discussed with Flynn about his contacts with Kislyak regarding the late December 2019 United Nations Security Council resolution regarding Israeli settlements. According to the FBI notes, Flynn told the agents he had not tried to influence Russia's vote on the resolution; in fact, he had asked Kislyak to have Russia oppose or delay the resolution. The FBI agents also asked Flynn whether he had asked Kislyak to avoid escalating the diplomatic conflict, or whether he had advocated against a "tit for tat" Russian response to U.S. sanctions. According to FBI notes, Flynn responded: "Not really. I don't remember. It wasn't, 'Don't do anything'." Flynn had in fact advised Kislyak that Russia should temper their response to the U.S. sanctions.
The FBI agents also asked Flynn about the follow-up phone call between him and Kislyak on this matter; according to the FBI notes, Flynn told the agents he could not remember such a call. This was a false statement, according to the Mueller Report. While the meeting was ongoing, White House aides called for National Security Council lawyer John Eisenberg, who eventually arrived at Flynn's office as the interview was finishing. Flynn told Eisenberg: "I brought these guys over ... I don't have anything to hide."
After the meeting, Pientka prepared an FD-302 form, a form used to summarize an FBI interview, for the discussion with Flynn. Strzok later modified Pientka's report and submitted his own 302 form, which became the official report on the meeting. The original 302 was later declared missing by the FBI.
Based on the results of the FBI interview, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates made an "urgent" request to meet with McGahn. She met with him on January 26 and again on January 27. She informed McGahn that Flynn was "compromised" and possibly open to blackmail by the Russians. Yates told McGahn that Flynn had misled Pence and other administration officials about the nature of his conversation with the Russian ambassador. She added that Flynn's "underlying conduct", which she could not describe due to classification, "was problematic in and of itself", saying "it was a whole lot more than one White House official lying to another." Former United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called the possibility of Flynn being blackmailed "kind of a stretch", while acknowledging that his false statement was "a problem ... that I would tell the president about".
On February 9, 2017, The Washington Post broke the story that Flynn had discussed the U.S. sanctions with Kislyak, contrary to the public denials made by the Trump administration, citing "nine current and former officials". The New York Times confirmed the story by The Washington Post, stating that a transcript of Flynn-Kislyak conversation existed. The Washington Post also reported that on February 8 Flynn had given them flat denials about such discussions. Flynn gave denials despite The Washington Post journalist Karen DeYoung informing him that officials "have listened to the intercepts" of his calls with Kislyak.
After The Washington Post published their story, Flynn's spokesman released a statement on February 9 tempering Flynn's denial, describing that Flynn "had no recollection of discussing sanctions", but also "couldn't be certain that the topic never came up". This happened after Flynn was confronted by Reince Priebus, Don McGahn, and John Eisenberg, who also informed Flynn that there were transcripts of his calls with Kislyak. Flynn told the White House officials he "either was not sure whether he discussed sanctions or did not remember doing so" (which was different from what he told Mike Pence and Sean Spicer in January). Meanwhile, Mike Pence only learnt on February 9 that Flynn had lied to him regarding the calls; Pence was informed by that day's media reports, said Pence's spokesman.
As a result of these news reports, public pressure on Flynn increased. On February 12, Trump's adviser Kellyanne Conway, declared that Trump had "full confidence" in Flynn, however one hour later on the same day, Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, described Trump as "evaluating" Flynn.
On February 13, Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor, writing that he had given "incomplete information" of his conversations with Kislyak. Flynn's 24-day tenure as National Security Advisor was the shortest in the 63-year history of the office. Before Flynn's resignation, he told the Daily Caller that in his conversation with Kislyak, he told Kislyak he was aware of the expulsion of the 35 Russians, and that: "We'll review everything."
On February 14, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump had asked for Flynn to resign, "not based on a legal issue, but based on a trust issue", due to "misleading the Vice President and others, or the possibility that he had forgotten critical details of this important conversation", which "created a critical mass and an unsustainable situation".
Later in December 2017, President Trump said he "had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI", noting that Flynn had "pled guilty to those lies". Also in December 2017, Vice President Pence said that by the time Flynn departed the Trump administration, "I knew that he lied to me." Pence also said Trump "made the right decision" to remove Flynn.
Investigations after leaving the Trump administration
On February 14, President Trump met with FBI Director James Comey in the Oval Office and reportedly told him "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go" adding "he's a good guy." Comey subsequently testified that, "I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December ... I did not understand the president to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign". The propriety, and even the legality, of these words that Trump reportedly said to Comey about Flynn have become a subject of considerable public debate. Several months after dismissing Flynn, Trump also dismissed Comey, which Comey attributed to the FBI's Russia investigation.
Flynn had offered to testify to the FBI or the Senate and House Intelligence committees relating to the Russia probe in exchange for immunity from criminal prosecution. However, the Senate Intelligence Committee rejected Flynn's offer for testimony in exchange for immunity. Flynn initially declined to respond to a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but he and the committee later struck a compromise. The Pentagon inspector general was also investigating whether Flynn accepted money from foreign governments without the required approval.
On November 5, 2017, NBC News reported that Robert Mueller had enough evidence for charges against Flynn and his son, Michael G. Flynn. On November 10, The Wall Street Journal reported that Flynn was under investigation by Mueller for allegedly planning a kidnapping and extrajudicial rendition of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen to Turkey. On November 22, NBC News reported that Flynn's business partner Bijan Kian was a subject of the Mueller probe. NBC reported that a Turkish businessman named Reza Zarrab, who was picked up in 2016 by US authorities in Miami on Iranian sanctions violations and money laundering charges, was offering evidence against Flynn. Flynn's firm was paid more than $500,000 by Inovo, a Netherlands firm owned by Turkish businessman Kamil Ekim Alptekin, for work which included investigating Gülen. In turn Alptekin received $80,000, said to be a kick-back in a report done by Reuters.
On November 23, 2017, it was reported that Flynn's lawyers notified Trump's legal team they could no longer discuss anything regarding Mueller's investigation, suggesting Flynn may have been cooperating with prosecutors or negotiating a deal.
On December 1, 2017, Flynn and special counsel Robert Mueller agreed to a plea bargain in the District of Columbia's U.S. District Court. In the agreement, Flynn pleaded guilty to "willfully and knowingly" making "false, fictitious and fraudulent statements" to the FBI regarding conversations with Russia's ambassador. In the Statement of the Offense to which Flynn agreed, he said he falsely denied that on December 29, 2016 he asked Russia's ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak "to refrain from escalating ... in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia that same day." Flynn's guilty plea acknowledged that he was cooperating with the Mueller investigation, and it was accepted by the court.
Flynn's sentencing has been deferred several times, most recently on November 27, 2019 and February 10, 2020. As part of Flynn's plea negotiations, his son, Michael G. Flynn, was expected to avoid charges.
In a sentencing memorandum released on December 4, 2018, the Mueller investigation stated Flynn "deserves credit for accepting responsibility in a timely fashion and substantially assisting the government" and should receive little or no jail time.
Flynn's attorneys submitted a sentencing memo on December 11, 2018, requesting leniency and suggesting FBI agents had tricked him into lying during the January 24, 2017, White House interview and did not advise him that lying to federal agents is a felony. The memo also asserted that Flynn's relaxed behavior during the interview indicated he was being truthful. Trump echoed this assertion two days later on Twitter and Fox News, asserting, "They convinced him he did lie, and he made some kind of a deal."
Mueller's office rejected these assertions the next day, stating agents had told Flynn portions of what he had discussed with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak to jog his memory, but Flynn did not waver from his false statements. FBI agents concluded that Flynn's relaxed behavior during the interview was actually because he was fully committed to his lies. Mueller's office also documented instances when Flynn lied about the Kislyak conversation during the days before the FBI interview. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ordered documents related to the interview be provided to him prior to Flynn's December 18, 2018 sentencing. The New York Times reported that Flynn's "decision to attack the FBI in his own plea for probation appeared to be a gambit for a pardon from Mr. Trump, whose former lawyer had broached the prospect last year with a lawyer for Mr. Flynn."
Sullivan, who had a history of skepticism about government conduct, rebuked Flynn at his December 18, 2018 sentencing hearing. Citing evidence not released to the public, the judge told him, "arguably you sold your country out", and warned, "I cannot assure that if you proceed today you will not receive a sentence of incarceration." He offered to delay the sentencing until Flynn's cooperation with investigators was complete. After conferring with his attorneys, Flynn accepted the delay. During the hearing, Sullivan indicated he was offended by the suggestion in the sentencing memo submitted by Flynn's attorneys that the FBI had misled Flynn, as it created an appearance that Flynn wanted to accept a generous plea deal from prosecutors while also contending he had been entrapped. He asked several questions of Flynn's attorney, Robert Kelner, to determine if the defense was maintaining that the FBI had acted improperly in its investigation of Flynn, including whether he had been entrapped. Kelner responded, "No, your honor" to each question. Judge Sullivan also asked Flynn multiple questions under oath, including whether he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea, still accepted responsibility for his false statements and wanted to plead guilty, and was satisfied with his legal representation. Flynn restated his guilty plea, and acknowledged to Sullivan he was aware that lying to federal investigators was a crime at the time of his initial FBI interview in January 2017. Sullivan then delayed sentencing.
On May 16, 2019, an unredacted version of a December 2018 government sentencing memo for Flynn showed that he advised investigators that both before and after his guilty plea "he or his attorneys received communications from persons connected to the Administration or Congress that could have affected both his willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation." The Mueller Report described a November 2017 voicemail Flynn's attorneys received from Trump's "personal counsel", reportedly John Dowd, who said: "[I]f... there's information that implicates the President, then we've got a national security issue ... so, you know ... we need some kind of heads up," reiterating the president's "feelings toward Flynn and, that still remains." The newly unredacted information also showed that members of the Trump campaign discussed contacting WikiLeaks about the release of emails and "potential efforts to interfere with the SCO's investigation." The day the unredacted court filing was released, Sullivan ordered that the full transcript of the voicemail be released to the public by May 31, as well as the transcript of Flynn's conversation with Kislyak and unredacted portions of the Mueller Report relating to Flynn. The Justice Department released the Dowd transcript on May 31, but not the Flynn materials.
In June 2019, Flynn fired the Covington & Burling attorneys who had negotiated his plea deal and hired Sidney Powell, who had previously urged Flynn to withdraw his guilty plea. Trump complimented Flynn and Powell on Twitter. Testimony of contractors of the Flynn company in the Bijan Rafiekian trial indicate their foreign customer was interested in classified government information on Turkey's cleric Fethullah Gülen, surveillance of Gülen supporters, and likely terrorist links that might be turned up by their own investigations of the Turkish cleric. Bijan Rafiekian, who was a partner of Michael Flynn in the Flynn Intel Group and worked with the incoming Trump administration's transition team, was charged with illegally acting as an unregistered agent of Turkey. In 2019 a federal judge threw out the guilty verdicts against Bijan Rafiekian, citing insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction on either count.
In August 2019, Flynn's attorneys filed a motion to hold prosecutors in contempt for "malevolent conduct", accusing them of withholding material that benefited his case to cause him to plead guilty. They alleged that parts of the federal government had attempted to "smear" him as a Russian agent, "or the victim of a criminal leak or other abuses related to classified intercepts of his calls with Kislyak". In October 2019, Flynn's lawyers further alleged in court filings that "high-ranking FBI officials orchestrated an ambush-interview ... not for the purpose of discovering any evidence of criminal activity ... but for the purpose of trapping him into making statements they could allege as false."
On December 16, 2019, after a review of possible case related findings in the Michael Horowitz report, Sullivan rejected the assertions of FBI entrapment and prosecutorial malfeasance, setting his sentencing date for January 28, 2020. Sullivan asked prosecutors to present a new sentencing memo; they had previously recommended little or no jail time, but more recently suggested they might change their position. On January 7, 2020, prosecutors presented a sentencing memo calling for Flynn to be sentenced to a term of up to six months. One week later, Flynn's lawyers filed a motion seeking permission to withdraw his guilty plea "because of the government's bad faith, vindictiveness, and breach of the plea agreement". On January 16, Sullivan postponed Flynn's sentencing date to February 27. On January 22, Flynn requested he be sentenced to probation and community service if his request to withdraw his guilty plea is not granted. On January 29, 2020, Flynn filed a personal declaration with the court, declaring under penalty of perjury that he was innocent, that he still didn't remember whether he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak or the details of their discussion of the United Nations vote on Israel, that his Covington attorneys had not provided effective counsel, and that he "did not consciously or intentionally lie" to the FBI agents who had interviewed him. After senior Justice Department officials intervened in February 2020 to recommend a lighter sentence for Roger Stone than prosecutors had recommended the day before, NBC News reported that the previous month senior DOJ officials had also intervened to recommend Flynn's sentence be reduced from up to six months in the original recommendation to probation.
Days before Flynn's scheduled sentencing, attorney general Bill Barr appointed Jeffrey Jensen, the U.S. attorney for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, to examine Flynn's prosecution. On February 10, 2020, Flynn's sentencing was postponed indefinitely, to allow both sides to prepare arguments in response to his claim that his previous lawyers violated his constitutional rights by providing inadequate legal counsel.
Justice Department's motion to drop charges
In February 2020, Attorney General William Barr declared that there would be a review of Flynn's case. Barr chose St. Louis' chief federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Jensen, to conduct the review. Jensen himself was nominated by President Trump for the St. Louis position. Trump had publicly called for Flynn's charges to be dropped. In late April or early May, Jensen recommended to Barr that the charges be dropped, and Barr agreed with the recommendation.
On May 7, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a Motion to Dismiss with prejudice the criminal information against Flynn. The motion, filed by Timothy Shea, interim United States Attorney for the District of Columbia and a longtime adviser of Barr's, stated that Flynn's questioning "was untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI's counterintelligence investigation". Lead DOJ prosecutor Brandon L. Van Grack withdrew from the case, and no DOJ attorneys who had been involved in the case signed on to Shea's motion. Van Grack had contended in previous filings that the "topics of sanctions went to the heart of the FBI's counterintelligence investigation, [and] any effort to undermine those sanctions could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia." Sidney Powell, Flynn's attorney, said prosecution filings had been made in "bad faith", and Brady materials had been withheld. Judge Sullivan had previously ruled that Flynn's statements were material to the Russia campaign interference inquiry. It was left to Sullivan to determine whether to dismiss the charges and also to prevent a retrial on the charges. Sullivan had the option of requesting written submissions on the motion and also could determine if additional Brady disclosure materials that should have been provided to the defense could be added to the record.
On May 12, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ordered a hold on the Justice Department's intent to drop charges, saying he expects that independent groups and legal experts will wish to intervene. Judge Sullivan said he will set schedules for filing "friend-of-the court" or amicus briefs. On May 13, Judge Sullivan appointed retired U.S. District Judge John Gleeson to act as an amicus curiae "to present arguments in opposition to the government's Motion to Dismiss" and to "address whether the Court should issue an Order to Show Cause why Mr. Flynn should not be held in criminal contempt for perjury." On May 19, Judge Sullivan set a schedule for amicus briefs (to be submitted no later than June 10, 2020), replies (with various dates in June, 2020), and oral arguments (on July 16, 2020). On June 10, Judge Gleeson filed his amicus brief stating that the government's motion be denied as "the Government's statement of reasons for seeking dismissal is pretextual" and "there is clear evidence of a gross abuse of prosecutorial power" and concluding that "Flynn has indeed committed perjury in these proceedings" that should be taken into account in his sentencing. On June 17, the Justice Department filed a brief with Sullivan asserting that even if Gleeson's findings of gross abuse were true, the Department still had sole authority to drop the case without judicial review. A footnote in the brief stated that assertions of prosecutorial misconduct made by Flynn's attorney, Sidney Powell, were "unfounded and provide no basis for impugning the prosecutors."
On May 19, Flynn filed an Emergency Petition for a Writ of Mandamus in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit requesting a writ ordering the district court to (1) grant the government's Motion to Dismiss with prejudice, (2) vacate its order appointing an amicus curiae, and (3) assign the case to another judge for any additional proceedings. On May 21, a three-judge panel of the Court ordered Judge Sullivan to file a response addressing Flynn's request within ten days of the order and also invited the Department of Justice to respond. In response to the order, Judge Sullivan retained Beth Wilkinson to help with his response. On June 1, Judge Sullivan and the Department of Justice filed responsive briefs with the appellate court panel. On June 10, Flynn, the Department of Justice, and Judge Sullivan filed reply briefs. On June 12, oral arguments were heard by the appellate court panel by teleconference.
Flynn is a registered Democrat, having grown up in a "very strong Democratic family". However, he was a keynote speaker during the first night of the 2016 Republican National Convention, and he was a surrogate and top national security adviser for President Donald Trump.
During a July 10, 2016, interview on ABC News' This Week, when asked by host Martha Raddatz about the issue of abortion, Flynn said, "women have to be able to choose". The next day, Flynn said on Fox News that he is a "pro-life Democrat".
Flynn is a supporter of current Israeli policies. He is also an opponent of the Iran nuclear deal. In February 2017, Flynn said "the Obama administration failed to respond adequately to Tehran's malign actions—including weapons transfers, support for terrorism and other violations of international norms". Flynn accused Yemen's Houthi rebels of being one of Iran's "proxy terrorist groups" in February 2017. Flynn also criticized Obama's administration for arming Syrian rebels linked to Salafi jihadism. According to Flynn, the U.S. is "at war with a radical component of Islam". Flynn has been a board member of ACT! for America, and sees the Muslim faith as one of the root causes of Islamist terrorism.
Flynn has described Islam as a political ideology and a cancer. He once tweeted that "fear of Muslims is RATIONAL" and included a video link claiming that Islam wants "80% of people enslaved or exterminated". Initially supportive of Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US, Flynn later told Al Jazeera a blanket ban was unworkable and has called instead for "vetting" of entrants from countries like Syria. Flynn has said the U.S. "should extradite Fethullah Gülen" to Turkey and "work constructively with Russia" in Syria. In 2016, he said he had seen photos of signs in the Southwest border area that were in Arabic to help Muslims entering the United States illegally. Shawn Moran, a vice president of the National Border Patrol Council responded to CNN that the group [National Border Patrol Council] was not aware of the signs Flynn referenced, but they were concerned about the threat of terrorism at the southern border.
Flynn co-authored a report in January 2010 through the Center for a New American Security, entitled Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan. That report, which became influential, argued that U.S. intelligence agencies "must open their doors to anyone who is willing to exchange information, including Afghans and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) as well as the US military and its allies".
Flynn is also an author of The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies, co-authored with Michael Ledeen, which was published by St. Martin's Press in 2016. In reviewing the book, Will McCants of the Brookings Institution described Flynn's worldview as a confused combination of neoconservatism (an insistence on destroying what he sees as an alliance of tyranny, dictatorships, and radical Islamist regimes) and realism (support for working with "friendly tyrants"), although he acknowledged that this could be due to the book's having two authors.