Ousted Trump National Security Adviser at Center of Russia Probe

  • VOA News

    May 19, 2017 08:02

    Retired Army General Michael Flynn, a staunch political surrogate for Donald Trump's election as president and for 24 days his first national security adviser, now is certain to be at the center of a new special prosecutor's investigation of Trump campaign links to Russian interests.

    The 59-year-old Flynn has already been at the heart of several controversies in Trump's four-month presidency and now will face new scrutiny with the appointment Wednesday of special counsel Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the county's top criminal investigative agency.

    In 2015, when Trump began his presidential run, Flynn was paid more than $30,000 to attend Moscow events, including one where he sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a dinner celebrating the Kremlin-controlled RT television network.

    Trump fired Flynn in February from the key White House posting after routine U.S. eavesdropping on foreign officials showed he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to Washington in the weeks before Trump assumed power in late January. Flynn had been kept on the job for 18 days after the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, had warned the White House that he could be subject to blackmail from the Russians because he had misled Pence.

    Then, a day after Trump ousted Flynn, associates of former FBI chief James Comey, whom Trump fired last week, say that the president urged Comey at a White House meeting to drop his investigation of Flynn and that Comey soon after made extensive notes about his conversation with Trump.

    The White House says Comey's contemporaneous recollection of his discussions with Trump are not accurate, while some legal experts say that if true, Trump's efforts to end the Flynn probe could be construed as obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense.

    Last week, Trump said that as he was thinking of "this Russia thing," he fired Comey, who was leading the FBI's investigation of the Trump campaign's links to Russia. Trump has been dismissive of investigations of his campaign's links to Russia, saying that claims of Moscow's meddling in the election to help him win are an excuse by Democrats to explain his upset win over former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

    The Comey firing and the reports of Trump's attempt to curb the Flynn investigation led to calls from lawmakers, Democrats and some Republicans, for appointment a special prosecutor in the Russia investigation. Mueller will fill a role independent of the normal channels of authority at the country's Department of Justice.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) sits next to retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (left) as they attend an exhibition marking the 10th anniversary of RT (Russia Today) television news channel in Moscow, Russia on Dec.10, 2015. /Reuters

    The New York Times said in a Thursday report that the new Trump administration named Flynn as national security adviser even though Flynn told the president-elect's transition team weeks before the Jan. 20 inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working during the presidential campaign as a paid lobbyist for Turkish interests in the United States. Flynn was paid more than $500,000.

    The inspector general at the U.S. Defense Department announced recently it is investigating whether Flynn sought permission for the Russian and Turkish payments after he was specifically warned when he retired from the military to not accept any money from foreign governments.

    Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Flynn and other Trump aides were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails in the last seven months of the presidential campaign ahead of the November 8 vote.

    Flynn headed the Defense Intelligence Agency for two years under former President Barack Obama, until he was ousted in 2014 for his chaotic management of the spy agency.

    Later, Flynn emerged as a sharp critic of Obama's handling of national security matters, while supporting Trump's long-shot run for the presidency.

    Flynn made a speech at last year's Republican national convention that handed Trump the party's presidential nomination. Flynn led thousands of party faithful in an anti-Clinton chant, "Lock her up!" for the way she handled national security material on her private email server while she was the country's top diplomat from 2009 to 2013.

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