On April 25, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) held a news conference where they accused former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn of breaking the law by accepting payments from foreign governments without receiving consent from Congress, and then not properly disclosing them on a security clearance application.
That news conference was held on the same day news broke that the White House was stonewalling the House Oversight Committee’s probe into Flynn’s security clearance application by refusing to turn over documents pertaining to his security clearance.
On Thursday, Yahoo reported that there was another previously unreported but significant development on that day. Michael Isikoff, citing two sources close to Flynn, reports that Flynn told “small group of loyalists” at a restaurant in northern Virginia that he’s still in touch with Trump. In fact, he heard from the president the very same day that Chaffetz and Cummings held their press conference.
“I just got a message from the president to stay strong,” Flynn reportedly told his companions.
What Trump meant isn’t totally clear, but within a month, Trump — who, by his own admission, was frustrated by the ongoing Russia probes in Congress and the FBI — fired FBI Director James Comey. That decision, coming as it did while his campaign is under active investigation, resulted in the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the Trump-Russia shadiness and has sparked calls for Trump’s impeachment.
Flynn is at the center of that investigation. His lies about his pre-inauguration communications with the Russian ambassador led to him losing his job as national security adviser in mid-February. But the fact he even got the job in the first place is more puzzling in the wake of a bombshell report published by the New York Times on Wednesday — a report that might also shed light on the Trump administration’s reluctance to turn over documents to the Intelligence Committee.
“Flynn told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case,” the Times reported. “Mr. Flynn’s disclosure, on Jan. 4, was first made to the transition team’s chief lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, who is now the White House counsel. That conversation, and another one two days later between Mr. Flynn’s lawyer and transition lawyers, shows that the Trump team knew about the investigation of Mr. Flynn far earlier than has been previously reported.”
Pence previously said he didn’t know about Flynn’s lobbying work for foreign interests until March, despite the fact lawyers for the transition effort he was leading were apparently informed weeks before the inauguration. His office released a statement Thursday saying he “stands by his comments in March,” but he later dodged questions from a reporter.
Pence ignores @tedbarrettcnn's questions about whether he knew Flynn was under investigation during the transition
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) May 18, 2017
Meanwhile, Flynn still isn’t cooperating with the congressional investigations. On Thursday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) told reporters that Flynn’s lawyers “said he would not honor the subpoena, and that’s not a surprise to the committee.”
“But we will figure out on Gen. Flynn what the next step, if any, is,” Burr added. Later in the day, however, Burr walked that back, saying Flynn’s lawyers simply hadn’t yet responded to the subpoena.
Flynn might be stonewalling, but the Times reports that a grand jury in northern Virginia is investigating Flynn’s “foreign lobbying and has begun issuing subpoenas to businesses that worked with Mr. Flynn and his associates.”
Meanwhile, Trump tweeted on Thursday that he still thinks the investigation into his associates is nothing more than a “witch hunt,” despite the fact that the person who named the special counsel is a Trump administration official who Trump praised as “highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy” just a week ago.
The Times report wasn’t the one piece published this week that makes Flynn and the Trump administration look bad. Reuters reports that despite denials by Pence and other high-ranking officials that any contact took place, “Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race.”
Flynn, in particular, worked with the Russian ambassador to establish “a back channel for communication between Trump and [Russian President Vladimir Putin] that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations,” according to Reuters.
UPDATE: The Daily Beast reports that not only have Trump and Flynn been in touch since Flynn’s ouster, but Trump actually wants him back in the administration.
“Several sources close to Flynn and to the administration tell The Daily Beast that Trump has expressed his hopes that a resolution of the FBI’s investigation in Flynn’s favor might allow Flynn to rejoin the White House in some capacity — a scenario some of Trump’s closest advisers in and outside the West Wing have assured him absolutely should not happen,” the Daily Beast reports. “A longtime Trump confidant also confirmed to The Daily Beast that Trump had mentioned to him that he had communicated with Lt. Gen. Flynn in the past few weeks — long after Flynn had been given the boot from the Trump administration.
The Daily Beast notes that news of Trump and Flynn’s recent communications contradicts “repeated and adamant White House denials last week that Trump and his former National Security Adviser had been communicating since Flynn’s ouster.”