When Donald Trump named Michael Flynn as his national security adviser last November, liberals had good cause to raise their eyebrows. The retired general had established himself as a proud Islamophobe — one who believed that “fear of Muslims is rational,” and that Democrats had tried to impose Sharia law on the state of Florida.
But Flynn wasn’t merely a delusional bigot (a title that belongs on the résumés of no small number of Trump appointees) — he was a delusional bigot who could be bought.
In July 2016, Flynn hailed the coup attempt against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan as an event “worth clapping for.” This is about what you’d expect Flynn to say. Erdogan is an Islamist, after all.
But in an op-ed published on Election Day, Flynn struck a radically different note. Four months after cheering an attempt on Erdogan’s life, the Trump campaign surrogate criticized the Obama administration for keeping the Turkish president “at arms’ length” — and demanded that the U.S. extradite the man Erdogan blamed for the coup, Fethullah Gülen, who resides in Pennsylvania.
The following week, Politico revealed that Flynn’s new perspective had less to do with a change of heart than with a change of clientele: Shortly after the failed coup, a Dutch company owned by a close ally of Erdogan hired Flynn’s firm to lobby on behalf of the Turkish government in D.C.
Flynn collected payments from that company, even as he received classified intelligence briefings during the campaign’s final stages — when Trump was savaging Hillary Clinton for supposedly selling influence to foreign governments.
All this was all reported, in major news outlets, the week that Flynn’s appointment was announced.
On Tuesday, Flynn filed paperwork with the Justice Department, formally identifying himself as a foreign agent, and acknowledging his work on behalf of the Dutch firm (and/or the Turkish government).
On Thursday, the White House said that President Trump was “not aware” that Flynn had worked to advance the interests of the Turkish government at the time he hired him. Which is to say: The Trump administration’s official line is that it appointed Flynn to one of the most powerful positions in the American government without bothering to Google him.
But the White House may be more dishonest than negligent. On Friday, the Trump administration confirmed with Associated Press that “the president’s transition team was informed before Inauguration Day that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn might need to register as a foreign agent with the Justice Department.”
President Trump believes in extreme vetting.