Michael Flynn’s former top deputy at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) told Yahoo News on Thursday he would have ordered an immediate investigation of his one-time boss had he been informed that the ex-DIA chief had accepted more than $45,000 from an arm of the Russian government for a talk in Moscow in December 2015.
“I would have considered this an intelligence issue — taking money from an existential adversary of the United States,” said Douglas Wise, who served as deputy director of the DIA from the summer of 2014 until last year. “I would have made it an issue with the Office of General Counsel, the office of security and the office of counterintelligence — absolutely.”
Flynn’s failure to disclose his payments from RT, the Russian government-funded TV network that U.S. officials say serves as a propaganda arm for President Vladimir Putin’s administration, erupted as an issue earlier in the day Thursday when it was revealed that the Department of Defense’s top watchdog is investigating whether Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, violated federal ethics rules by failing to report and receive prior approval to accept the RT fees.
But Wise, a career CIA officer who was detailed to the DIA as its deputy director during the last few months of Flynn’s tenure there in 2014, said a Pentagon probe would have begun two years earlier had he known about such payments. While Flynn did inform DIA debriefers that he was flying to Moscow for RT’s 10th anniversary — an event at which he spoke and sat next to Putin at a black-tie dinner — Wise said he had no idea that Flynn was actually compensated for it.
“Nobody would have imagined that Flynn would have taken money for the trip,” Wise said. “I would never have thought that in a million years.” When he learned last year that Flynn had actually been paid by RT, “I was apoplectic,” Wise said. Given RT’s role as a propaganda arm for Putin, “it was stunning,” he added.
But Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, released a statement Thursday disputing that Flynn had misled the DIA about the trip. He said in a statement that an April 7, 2012, letter from the DIA to a congressional committee confirms — in a still-redacted portion — that “General Flynn provided information and documents on a thumb drive to the Department of Defense concerning the RT speaking event in Moscow, including documents reflecting that he was using a speakers bureau for the event.”
“General Flynn provided two briefings to the Department — one before and one after the event. The Department was fully aware of the trip,” Kelner’s statement continued. “We urge DIA and the Committee to release the full, unredacted letter, along with the documents that General Flynn provided to DIA during the briefings and details concerning the in-person briefings provided by General Flynn to DIA.”
The disclosure by Defense Department Acting Inspector General Glenn Fine, in a letter to Congress, is the first indication that Flynn’s Russia ties are now being investigated by a federal agency. It is also prompting mounting charges from congressional Democrats that the White House is stonewalling inquiries into Flynn in order to deflect attention from questions about alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
“These guys are playing games,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking minority member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, about the White House’s refusal this week to turn over requested documents about Flynn, including a copy of the security clearance form he filled out when joining the White House staff.
Other documents released by Cummings on Thursday include a letter from a DIA lawyer warning Flynn in October 2014 — after he was fired as the agency’s director — that he was prohibited from receiving payments from foreign sources without advance permission.
The letter from the lawyer, whose name is redacted, seems clear-cut. It advises Flynn of multiple ethics rules that would continue to govern his postmilitary conduct, including a ban on all retired military personnel from receiving foreign governments’ “emoluments” — defined as any “consulting fees, gifts, travel expenses, honoraria or salary” – without receiving prior consent from Congress and their previous service secretary.
“Accordingly, if you are ever in a position where you would receive an emolument from a foreign government or from an entity that might be controlled by a foreign government, be sure to obtain advance approval from the Army prior to acceptance,” the letter reads. It later states: “You are respectfully reminded that you are responsible for ensuring compliance with these post-government restrictions,” noting that “these statutes carry criminal sanctions.”
But another new DIA letter released by Cummings on Thursday states that the agency could locate no documents showing that Flynn sought advance permission or approval for the receipt of money from RT.
“We have no evidence, not a shred, that he disclosed his payments,” Cummings said at a news conference about Flynn’s payments from RT.
Questions about Flynn’s 2015 appearance in Moscow first arose last July during an interview at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, when Yahoo News pressed him on who paid for his trip to attend the 10th anniversary celebration of RT.
“I didn’t take any money from Russia, if that’s what you’re asking me,” Flynn said at first. Then, when asked who did him pay him, Flynn replied: “My speakers’ bureau — ask them.”
Documents released last month show that Flynn was paid $45,386 for the trip, routed through RT’s London office, with 25 percent of that going to Leading Authorities, his speakers’ bureau. But Cummings and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the House oversight committee’s chairman, said this week that Flynn failed to disclose the payments from RT on a form he filled out to renew his security clearance in early 2016 — just months before he joined the Trump campaign as chief foreign policy adviser.
That failure has now apparently led to the Pentagon investigation.
“This office has initiated an investigation to determine whether Lieutenant General (LTG) Flynn, U.S. Army (Retired) failed to obtain required approval prior to receiving any emolument from a foreign government,” Fine, the acting Pentagon inspector general, wrote in a letter to Chaffetz dated April 11 and released Thursday. Fine’s letter cites some of the same ethics restrictions that Flynn was warned about by the DIA lawyer in 2014.
Flynn was fired as Trump’s national security adviser in February. He was ousted after the White House acknowledged that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about a conversation he had with the Russian ambassador on Dec. 29, 2016, falsely denying that the two of them had discussed the possibility that the incoming Trump administration might lift sanctions on Russia once it took office. Flynn also later retroactively filed a notice with the Justice Department that he had received more than $500,000 last year from a Dutch company with links to the Turkish government — another issue that could be examined as part of the Pentagon inquiry.
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Update (2:50 p.m. ET): With comments from Kelner and Wise.