Former Trump aide Flynn says lobbying may have helped Turkey
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was fired from his prominent White House job last month, has registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for $530,000 worth of lobbying work before Election Day that may have aided the Turkish government.
Paperwork filed Tuesday with the Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Unit said Flynn and his firm were voluntarily registering for lobbying from August through November that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.” It was filed by a lawyer on behalf of the former U.S. Army lieutenant general and intelligence chief.
After his firm’s work on behalf of a Turkish company was done, Flynn agreed not to lobby for five years after leaving government service and never to represent foreign governments.
Under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, U.S. citizens who lobby on behalf of foreign government or political entities must disclose their work to the Justice Department. Willfully failing to register is a felony, though the Justice Department rarely files criminal charges in such cases. It routinely works with lobbying firms to get back in compliance with the law by registering and disclosing their work.
A Turkish businessman who hired Flynn’s consulting firm told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the amended filings were made in response to pressure from Justice Department officials in recent weeks. The businessman, Ekim Alptekin, said in a phone call from Istanbul that the changes were a response to “political pressure” and he did not agree with Flynn’s decision to file the registration documents with the Justice Department.
“I disagree with the filing,” he said. “It would be different if I was working for the government of Turkey, but I am not taking directions from anyone in the government.”
Flynn’s attorney did not respond to questions about whether the Justice Department or FBI had contacted Flynn about his lobbying activities.
Flynn’s consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group Inc., had previously disclosed to Congress that it worked for Inovo BV, a Dutch-based company owned by Alptekin. But neither Flynn nor his company had previously filed paperwork with the Justice Department, which requires more extensive transparency about work that benefits foreign governments and political interests.
In the filings with the Justice Department, Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, noted they served as a termination of the registration, saying the firm had ceased operations in November, the same month the lobbying contract ended.
Calls to phone numbers associated with Flynn and his firm weren’t answered. Kelner, his attorney, declined to comment through a spokesman for his law firm, Covington & Burling.
Reached Wednesday afternoon, an official at the Turkish embassy in Washington said he would refer the questions to the embassy spokesman. The spokesman did not immediately respond.
The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Trump fired Flynn last month for misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.
As a key member of Trump’s transition team last December, Flynn spoke by phone several times with Kislyak during the period when former President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S. and levied new sanctions in response to Russian election-related hacking.
According to the new paperwork, Flynn’s firm took on the Turkish-related lobbying work in August while he was a top Trump campaign surrogate. Flynn Intel disclosed in its filing that in mid-September, the company was invited by Alptekin to meet with Turkish officials in New York.
Alptekin acknowledged Wednesday that he had set up the meeting between Flynn and the two officials. He said they met at an undisclosed hotel in New York. Alptekin said Flynn happened to be in New York while the Turkish officials were attending United Nations sessions and a separate conference Alptekin had arranged.
“I asked one of Gen. Flynn’s staff if he was in town and would be available to meet and they got in touch with him,” said Alptekin, who owns several businesses in Turkey.
Among those officials, the documents said, were Turkey’s ministers of foreign affairs and energy. Flynn’s company did not name the officials but reported the two worked for Turkey’s government “to the best of Flynn Intel Group’s current understanding.”
Alptekin, who previously told The Associated Press he has no relationship with the Turkish government, is a member of a Turkish economic relations board run by an appointee of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president.
Erdogan’s power base is Turkey’s Islamic voters, and since a failed coup in July, he has accelerated a crackdown against the nation’s weakening secularist faction. Erdogan has accused cleric Fethullah Gulen of orchestrating the aborted coup and called for his extradition from the U.S., where he lives. The Obama administration did not comply, and Gulen still lives in a compound in Pennsylvania.
According to the filing, Flynn Intel’s work involved collecting information about Gulen and pressuring U.S. officials to take action against the cleric, including a meeting in October between Flynn’s firm and a representative of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Flynn Intel arranged the meeting to discuss a technology developed by another Flynn Intel client. But after discussing the technology, the firm changed the subject to Gulen, pressuring the committee to hold congressional hearings to investigate the cleric, said a U.S. official with direct knowledge of Flynn Intel’s work. That request was rebuffed. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The official said Flynn Intel never revealed whom it was representing during the meeting.
The October meeting came as Flynn was working on an op-ed promoting Turkey’s political and business affairs that was later published in The Hill, a Washington-based political newspaper. Flynn wrote that Turkey needed support and echoed Erdogan’s warnings about Gulen, whom he called a “shady” Turkish Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania. Flynn argued that Gulen should not be given safe harbor in the U.S.
In the new filing, Flynn disclosed that in writing the op-ed, he relied on research conducted as part of the Inovo BV contract. Flynn’s firm also admitted it conducted “open-source research,” directed by Inovo, focusing on Gulen.
The results “were provided to Inovo” and to a separate lobbying firm, S.G.R. LLC Government Relations and Lobbying, a public relations company retained by Flynn Intel. The materials were aimed for distribution to “third parties,” but because the project terminated early, “the full scope of the contract was not performed,” according to the filings.
In the filings, Flynn emphasized that neither Inovo BV nor the Turkish government directed him to write the op-ed. He also said he was not paid for the op-ed. Alptekin said he had been opposed to Flynn’s writing the op-ed, although he agreed with its anti-Gulen and pro-Turkley stances.
Alptekin added that he had asked for some of the $530,000 in payments to the Flynn Intel Group to be returned to him because of his dissatisfaction with the company’s performance.
Associated Press writer Julie Bykowicz contributed to this report.