On Friday, President-elect Donald Trump named retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a prominent campaign surrogate and former Defense Intelligence Agency director, to be his National Security Adviser. The self-proclaimed “Democrat for Trump” is a highly controversial figure, called “America’s angriest general” by Politico, under fire from conservatives for his lobbying ties to the Turkish government, and reportedly criticized by other Trump allies for his disruptive behavior during security briefings. Since the position does not require Senate confirmation, it will be entirely Trump’s decision.
Flynn had a lengthy military career behind him when President Obama appointed him in 2012 to run military intelligence. The arrangement proved problematic: Flynn clashed with others in the administration over how to deal with the threat of ISIS until he was apparently forced out in 2014. He became a vocal public critic of his former employer.
Here are some things you should know about the man who will likely have the next president’s ear on security issues:
He has come under fire from conservatives for his ties to Turkey.
The conservative Daily Caller reported last week that Flynn has ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government and that he did not disclose those ties in a recent OP/ED calling for the United States to extradite a cleric Erdoğan says was connected to a recent coup attempt. The Turkish government has not provided any evidence to justify such an extradition.
Flynn is chairman and CEO of Flynn Intel Group, a consulting firm that registered in September to lobby the federal government on unspecified “government issues” on behalf of the Dutch company Inovo BV. The company’s founder chairs the Turkish-American Business Council. A former state department official wrote in the Huffington Post that “Flynn’s pro-Turkish positions compound concerns arising from his judgement and ethical lapse.”
He has also come under fire from conservatives for his ties to Russia.
In addition, Flynn drew criticism from the conservative Accuracy in Media for his decision to attend a gala dinner for the Russian state-owned media company RT, which it accuses of spreading “propaganda and disinformation.”
In December 2015, Flynn traveled to Moscow and spoke at the tenth anniversary gala for RT. He was seated next to Vladimir Putin. Flynn defended the paid appearance, but refused to say just who footed the bill. Pressed about his regular appearances on RT, he answered they are no different from his unpaid stops on CNN and Fox News.
These connections with the Turkish and Russian regimes did not stop him from accusing Hillary Clinton during the campaign of “waging the real war on women” because the Clinton foundation received money from “nations who brutalize women.”
He is proudly Islamophobic.
Flynn, like Trump, made a big deal in the campaign about the notion that in order to defeat “radical Islam,” it is vital that politicians use that term.
Following the July attacks in Nice, France, Flynn called it a “world war” and demanded that all Muslim leaders to condemn “this radical form of this ideology in their bloodstream and declare that this thing cannot exist on this plane.”
In next 24 hours, I dare Arab & Persian world "leaders" to step up to the plate and declare their Islamic ideology sick and must B healed.
— General Flynn (@GenFlynn) July 15, 2016
But his animosity toward Muslim people goes beyond just those who commit acts of violence under the banner of religious extremism.
In January, Al Jazeera broadcast a video of Flynn saying, “I’ve been at war with Islam, or a, or a component of Islam, for the last decade.” In in February, he tweeted that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” essentially the definition of Islamophobia.
Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: please forward this to others: the truth fears no questions… https://t.co/NLIfKFD9lU
— General Flynn (@GenFlynn) February 27, 2016
And it’s not just Islam. He later apologized for it, but in July he tweeted out a comment from a critic of CNN’s coverage of Trump that contained the words, “Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore.”
He thinks LGBT equality is a trivial matter.
Though Flynn has said he personally has no problem with gay people, he has also opposed efforts to protect the rights of LGBT service members.
In a fiery Republican National Convention speech, he took aim at efforts to respect the gender identity of transgender people in the military. “Way too often, our troops are instead distracted by trivial matters about what word to use, what terminology is politically correct, and what bathroom door to open up,” he bellowed. “My God! War is not about bathrooms, war is not political correctness, or words that are meaningless. War is about winning.” (In the same speech, he joined Trump supporters in chanting “lock her up,” while demanding that “Crooked Hillary Clinton” drop out of the campaign).
Weeks later, he approvingly tweeted out a Conservative HQ article Elaine Donnelly, the woman who continues to lead the unsuccessful movement to exclude LGBT people from the military in the name of “readiness,” on the “importance of military culture, cohesion, and core values.” Flynn said Donnelly “nails it” in her screed about how the Obama administration “decided to treat transgenders [sic] as a special, protected class,” subjecting young women to “gender pretenders.”
He vacillates in his political views.
In July, when it appeared Flynn might be selected as Trump’s running mate, he told ABC’s This Week that he supported abortion rights. “I think for women, and these are difficult issues, but I think women have to be able to choose,” he explained. A day later, he told Fox News that he is, in fact, a “pro-life Democrat.” Finally, he gave Business Insider his third abortion position in two days: “The Supreme Court decided upon this. This is a legal issue. I’m a guy that’s a rule-of-law guy, so this has to be decided, and it was decided, by our court system. So it’s a legal issue.”
He was not as willing to leave other matters up to the system. Days before the election, Flynn blasted Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) for using his constitutional power to re-enfranchise former felons. “This is Y I support @realDonaldTrump,” he tweeted, calling the decision “CRAZY!”
He has been a critic of drone warfare and the Iraq War, but defended many of Trump’s most controversial positions including use of torture, the killing of terror suspects’ families, and a ban on all Muslim immigration.
In an October op/ed Tufts University international relations professor Daniel W. Drezner wrote, “ Flynn should be kept as far away from power as humanly possible.”
In July, when a Trump supporter tweeted that “There are always one or two generals vying for SECDEF appointments,” Flynn replied “I could care less about a job; I care about America & I believe #NeverHillary has already demonstrated she doesn’t.”
But it appear he is getting a job, anyway.
This piece has been updated to reflect that Trump officially named Flynn’s National Security Adviser.