When former Lieutenant General Michael Flynn retired from his position as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, he was hailed as “the best intelligence officer of the past 20 years.” Three years later, he has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and appears to be at the center of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
No one could have predicted Flynn’s fall from brilliant military tactician to ex-national security adviser who lied too much for even Donald Trump’s administration. However, Flynn had long had iconoclastic tendencies, and his 33-year military career ended when he was pushed out by the Obama administration. In a hacked email, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Flynn was ousted because he was “abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management, etc.,” adding that he’s been “right-wing nutty ever since.”
A short time later, Flynn was advising the Trump campaign, leading a chant of “Lock her up!” at the Republican National Convention, and finding himself embroiled in so many scandals that it’s hard to keep track. Here’s the refresher on all the questionable behavior Flynn has been accused of, from his infractions at DIA to this week’s revelation about his inauguration texting. He denies much of it, and we’ll surely learn more as Mueller’s probe unfolds. But if even a third is true, it seems Flynn received quite the deal.
Inappropriately Sharing Classified Intelligence
While serving as General Stanley McChrystal’s top intelligence official in Afghanistan, Flynn angered superiors by sharing intelligence with other countries. The Washington Post reports:
Former U.S. officials said he was scolded after traveling to Pakistan in 2009 or early 2010 and revealing to Pakistani officials sensitive U.S. intelligence on the militant Haqqani network accused of staging attacks on American forces. U.S. officials said that the move was aimed at prodding Pakistan to crack down on the militant group, but that Flynn exposed U.S. intelligence capabilities that only helped Pakistan protect an organization it used as a proxy ally.
Flynn also came under investigation by the Pentagon because of an allegation that he had inappropriately shared highly classified intelligence with Australian and British forces. “I’m proud of that one,” Flynn said in an interview. “Accuse me of sharing intelligence in combat with our closest allies. Please!”
Delivering an Awkwardly Timed Address to Russia’s Intelligence Agency
During the 2016 campaign, Flynn was critical of Trump’s praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he called a “a totalitarian dictator and a thug who does not have our interests in mind.” But he said he agreed that the U.S. should try new approaches to dealing with Russia. He’d done so several years earlier while serving as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Per The New Yorker:
In 2013, Flynn arranged a trip to Moscow to speak to a group of officers from the G.R.U., Russia’s intelligence agency, about leadership development. His decision to go was a controversial one. Flynn believed that there were opportunities to find common ground with Russia. But Steven Hall, the C.I.A.’s chief of Russia operations at the time, was skeptical. “He wanted to build a relationship with his counterparts in the G.R.U., which seemed, at best, quaint and naïve,” Hall told me. “Every time we have tried to have some sort of meaningful coöperation with the Russians, it’s almost always been manipulated and turned back against us.”
Several months later, shortly after Russia annexed Crimea. Flynn still tried to invite senior G.R.U. officer to the U.S., but he was shut down by his superiors.
Failing to Disclose a Trip to Promote a Russian Power-Plant Deal
After retiring from the military Flynn formed a consulting company, Flynn Intel Group. Democrats on the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees have accused Flynn of failing to disclose a trip to Egypt and Israel in June 2015 on behalf of a U.S. company he was representing. His mission was to gauge interest in a joint U.S.-Russian program (financed by Saudis) to build more than two dozen power plants in the region. Flynn remained involved in the project through the end of 2016, as he was working for the Trump campaign and transition, and sitting in on his classified briefings.
Attending an RT Gala With Putin
RT, the state-sponsored Russian TV network, paid Flynn more than $45,000 to speak at its 10th anniversary gala, where he was seated at Putin’s table. Members of Congress said that by accepting money from a foreign government, Flynn might have violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
“As a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey or anybody else,” former House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz said in April. “And it appears as if he did take that money. It was inappropriate, and there are repercussions for the violation of law.”
Flynn also failed report the payment on his application to renew his security clearance in February 2016. He said he had received no income from foreign companies and had only “insubstantial contact” with foreign nationals, according to Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.
Contacting Russians During the Campaign
April 2016 to November 2016
Flynn and other Trump advisers reportedly contacted Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the campaign. People with knowledge of the House and Senate Russia probes told Reuters in May that they had yet to uncover evidence of collusion, but the Trump administration had initially denied having any contacts with Russians during that time.
CNN reported around the same time that Russian officials bragged in intercepted communications that they had cultivated strong ties with Flynn and could use him to influence Trump.
Failing to Disclose That He Was Lobbying for Turkey
August 2016 - November 2016
As he was heavily involved in the final months of Trump’s presidential campaign, Flynn signed a contract with a Dutch company owned by the Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, who is close to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Flynn’s work centered on discrediting Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who lives in Pennsylvania. Erdogan had accused Gulen of orchestrating Turkey’s failed coup attempt against him the previous summer.
During an unrelated meeting, Flynn’s business partner, Bijan Kian, urged a representative of the House Homeland Security Committee to hold hearings about Gulen. Flynn also published an op-ed in The Hill on Election Day that called Gulen a “radical cleric” and said the U.S. should “not provide him a safe haven.”
Flynn initially failed to register with the Justice Department as an American representing a foreign entity. That’s a felony, though it’s seldom enforced. Flynn retroactively registered as a foreign agent in March 2017, disclosing that his firm was paid $530,000 for lobbying that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”
Plotting to Kidnap a Muslim Cleric
September 2016 - December 2016
Flynn and his son were allegedly offered up to $15 million to help kidnap Gulen and send him back to Turkey to face charges. The Wall Street Journal reported that several people have been questioned about a mid-December meeting in New York’s 21 Club where Flynn and Turkish representatives discussed how to transport Gulen from Pennsylvania on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali.
Last spring former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey told CNN that in September 2016 he walked in on another meeting where it appeared Flynn and Turkish government representatives were discussing how to get Gulen back to Turkey.
Flynn’s lawyers released a statement denying the “outrageous” story. An international kidnapping plot could result in a 20-year sentence for the Flynns.
Telling Russia the Trump Team Wanted a Secret Backchannel to Russia
December 1, 2016
Flynn and Jared Kushner, Trump’s adviser/son-in-law, met with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., at Trump Tower on December 1, and inquired about setting up a secret and secure communications channel between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin, possibly using Russian facilities in the U.S.
In a statement to congressional committees in July, Kushner said Kislyak told them he wanted to pass along information from his “generals” about “U.S. policy in Syria.”
“I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn,” Kushner said. “The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration,”
Asking Russia to Intervene in a U.N. Vote During the Transition
December 22, 2016
Documents made public after Flynn pleaded guilty last week revealed that “a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team” (according to multiple reports Jared Kushner) directed Flynn to call members of the United Nations Security Council and implore them to block a resolution condemning Israel’s settlements. Flynn then called Sergey Kislyak, who was then Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., at the time, and asked him to “delay a vote on or defeat” the resolution.
At the time the Obama administration was preparing to abstain from the vote, allowing it to go through. Flynn and Kushner’s actions could violate the obscure Logan Act, which bars private citizens from negotiating with foreign government.
Discussing New Sanctions With the Russian Ambassador
December 29, 2016
The Flynn court documents also confirmed that on the day President Obama announced new sanctions against Russia for its election interference, Flynn conferred with a “senior official” in the presidential transition team (former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, according to reports) then immediately called Kislyak. Flynn “requested that Russia not escalate the situation and only respond to the U.S. sanctions in a reciprocal manner,” suggesting relations would be improved under the Trump administration.
On December 31 Kislyak called Flynn back and said Russia had agreed not to retaliate. President Trump applauded Putin’s move on Twitter:
Possibly Lying to Vice President-Elect Mike Pence
While many doubt that Pence, who led the transition, was actually unaware of what Flynn discussed with Kislyak, that’s what the White House has claimed from the start. Pence was asked about Flynn’s interactions with Kislyak on January 15, days after the Washington Post’s David Ignatius first reported the potential Logan Act violation.
“What I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions,” Pence told Face the Nation.
A day after Flynn was fired Sean Spicer, then White House press secretary, said it was over lying to Pence. “We got to a point not based on a legal issue, but based on a trust issue, where a level of trust between the president and General Flynn had eroded to the point where he felt he had to make a change. The president was very concerned that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others.”
Foiling U.S. Military Plan That Turkey Opposed
January 10, 2017
Ten days before the inauguration, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, consulted with Flynn about a plan to retake Raqqa from ISIS with help from Syrian Kurdish forces. Obama’s team decided to seek Trump’s approval since the operation would be carried out under his administration. Flynn told Rice to hold off.
Flynn’s motivation remains unclear, but his decision happened to comply with the wishes of Turkey, which opposed the U.S. teaming up with Kurdish forces. Trump eventually approved the plan, several weeks after Flynn was fired.
Texting About Sanctions at the Inauguration
January 20, 2017
Flynn texted a former business partner to say that Obama’s sanctions against Russia would be “ripped up” as his was watching Trump deliver his inauguration speech, according to a report released by congressional Democrats this week. The business partner, Alex Copson, wanted to work with Russia on the plan to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East. Flynn reportedly texted that they were “good to go.”
A whistleblower told Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings in June that he ran into Copson on Inauguration Day and he boasted “Mike has been putting everything in place for us.” Cummings said he kept the claim quiet at Mueller’s request, but was cleared to make it public this week.
Lying to the FBI
January 24, 2017
Two days after he was sworn in as national security adviser, Flynn gave a voluntary interview to FBI investigators looking into Russia’s election interference. On Friday, December 1, 2017, he pleaded guilty to lying in that interview. It appears this was some kind of plea deal with Mueller’s team, but what that means for the ongoing investigation is unclear.
What we do know is that Flynn admitted to lying about calls he made regarding the U.N. resolution, and whether he asked Kislyak to refrain from “escalating the situation” after Obama imposed new sanctions. That carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, but court documents suggest he’s probably facing zero to six months in prison.