President Donald Trump’s messy pile of international relations scandals and conflicts of interest gained a salacious new development straight out of a novel on Friday.
Former Trump national security aide Michael Flynn discussed the hypothetical kidnapping of exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen from his Pennsylvania home with senior Turkish government officials in September, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Word of the conversation comes from former CIA head James Woolsey, who told the Journal he was alarmed by the brainstorming around “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away,” an operation which would violate U.S. law.
Flynn, through a spokesman, denied ever discussing such a plan. The conversation was “open-ended thinking on the subject” rather than a detailed tactical discussion of a special-ops raid on American soil, according to the Journal.
As Flynn was then working two jobs — one for the Trump campaign, the other as a paid representative of Turkish interests — the men he discussed the rendition idea with could have expected Flynn to share the idea with Trump.
The president’s team has said Trump did not know about Flynn’s half-million-dollar lobbying contract with a major Turkish company until recently. But the New York Times has reported that transition team lawyers discussed the retired general’s status as a foreign agent before he was named National Security Adviser.
The September meeting in New York included Erdogan’s powerful son-in-law Berat Albayrak. Erdogan and his inner circle blame Gülen for a failed coup attempt last summer and have long sought his extradition from the U.S.
Flynn’s own interactions with Vladimir Putin’s government ultimately cost him his place in the Trump administration. Flynn was the shortest-serving National Security Adviser in history, lasting just 24 days in the job. Trump fired him roughly two weeks after learning that Flynn had deceived Vice President Mike Pence about his contact with Russian government officials prior to Inauguration Day.
Flynn is just one nexus of the still-unfurling scandal around Trump’s relationship with Putin’s government, which the FBI is formally investigating. Indeed, the potentially illegal conversation Flynn had with Russian officials about U.S. sanctions prior to Trump’s inauguration is practically tame by comparison to other Trump aides’ alleged actions.
Trump insider Roger Stone was in touch with the Russia-based hackers during the election. Trump insider Carter Page traveled to Moscow last summer with approval from Trump’s campaign. Trump’s campaign team, then led by longstanding Ukraine lobbyist Paul Manafort, later pushed the RNC to change language about Putin’s Crimea land-grab in the party’s formal platform. Manafort had previously been on a $10 million annual retainer to shape American media coverage and political activity in Putin’s favor.
Flynn’s paid work on behalf of Turkey during the campaign had already opened up a second front of suspicions about Trump’s susceptibility to international influence.
The new reports that Turkish leaders sought to put the Gülen kidnapping idea in Flynn’s ear during Trump’s campaign might be less worrisome if not for Trump’s other potential conflicts of interest in dealing with Ankara.
At the start of December, Erdogan ordered the arrest of one of Trump’s business partners in Turkey. The detention could give Turkey leverage over the American leader by harming his bottom line. The businessman was arrested less than six weeks after the meeting where Erdogan’s team reportedly floated the illegal black-bag snatch-and-grab kidnapping idea to Flynn.