President Donald Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, registered with the Justice Department Tuesday as a foreign agent for $530,000 worth of lobbying work he conducted prior to the 2016 election that may have aided the Turkish government.
In August, Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin arranged a meeting between Flynn and two Turkish officials in New York to discuss Fethullah Gulen. Gulen is a Muslim cleric living in exile north of Philadelphia. Turkey’s strongman president, Recep Erdogan, accused Gulen of orchestrating a failed coup against him last July. Erdogan petitioned the Obama administration to extradite Gulen to Turkey, but the administration refused.
On behalf of the Turkish government, Flynn’s consultancy worked to gather information about Gulen and pressure American officials to take action against him.
Flynn’s consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group Inc., had previously disclosed to Congress that it worked for Inovo BV, a Dutch-based company that Alptekin owns. But neither Flynn nor his consultancy had registered as lobbyists for the Turkish government directly.
American citizens who lobby on behalf of foreign governments or political organizations are required by law to disclose their activities to the Justice Department. Failing to do so is a felony, though one which rarely earns criminal charges. Instead, the Justice Department works with lobbyists and their firms to help them register and disclose their work.
This is the second time Flynn’s relationship with a foreign state has been subject to scrutiny. He resigned as national security advisor in February when reports surfaced that before Trump took office, Flynn had discussed sanctions against Russia with a Russian ambassador. The discussions may have been a violation of the Logan Act, a 1799 law that prevents citizens from negotiating with a foreign power.
Flynn’s attorney did not respond to questions about whether the FBI or the Justice Department had asked Flynn about his lobbying activities.
The Turkish embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to questions.
Alptekin expressed his opposition to Flynn’s decision, and suggested that “political pressure” had compelled him register with the Justice Department:
“I disagree with the filing. It would be different if I was working for the government of Turkey, but I am not taking directions from anyone in the government.”
When asked about Flynn’s lobbying on behalf of Turkey on Thursday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said:
“I don’t believe that was known.”
Later, in an interview with Fox News, Vice President Mike Pence said:
“I think it is an affirmation of the president’s decision to ask General Flynn to resign. Hearing that story today was the first I heard of it.”
But TPM has assembled a robust list of reports regarding Flynn’s Turkish lobbying work, casting doubt on the White House’s claims of ignorance.