Feedback
Politics

Michael Flynn Discloses His Lobbying Might Have Helped Turkey

WASHINGTON — Michael Flynn, who was President Donald Trump's former national security adviser until being fired 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.

Mike Flynn fallout: A timeline of how we got here 3:54

Under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, U.S. citizens who lobby on behalf of foreign governments 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."

Alptekin added that he had asked for some of the $530,000 in payments to Flynn's consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group Inc., to be returned to him because of his dissatisfaction with the company's performance.

Flynn's attorney did not respond to questions about whether the Justice Department or FBI had contacted Flynn about his lobbying activities.

Image: Michael Flynn on Feb. 13, 2017
Then-White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn (center) arrives prior to a joint news conference between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 13. CARLOS BARRIA / Reuters

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 the documents 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.

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.

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.

Image: Fethullah Gulen
Fethullah Gulen speaks to members of the media at his compound in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, on July 17, 2016. Chris Post / AP, file

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.

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.