House committee probes Russia payment to Flynn

Citing a Yahoo News interview with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn last July, a House committee has opened an investigation into whether President Trump’s recently resigned national security adviser received an improper payment from the Russian government for a trip to Moscow in December 2015.

In an unusual bipartisan letter, House Oversight and Government Reform committee chair Rep. Jason Chaffetz and ranking minority member Rep. Elijah Cummings have asked a Washington-based speakers bureau, Leading Authorities, to turn over information on how much Flynn was paid for his appearance at an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of RT — the Russian-government funded news organization — where he sat at the same table for dinner as President Vladimir Putin. Flynn also sat for a 44-minute interview with RT anchor Sophie Shevardnadze, granddaughter of former Soviet foreign affairs minister Eduard Shevardnadze, as part of the trip.

“We are attempting to determine the amount Lt. General Flynn received for his appearance, the source of the funds, and whether he may have received payments from any foreign governments for additional engagements,” Chaffetz and Cummings wrote in a letter to Mark French, the president of Leading Authorities.

As their basis for asking the question, the congressmen cited the interview Flynn gave to Yahoo News last July during the opening day of the Republican convention. In a testy exchange during the interview, Flynn first acknowledged being paid for the Dec. 2015 event.

“Yeah, I went over there as a speaker, it was a speaking event,” Flynn responded when asked whether he was compensated for the trip. “What difference does that make? I didn’t take any money from Russia, I can tell you that.”

Then who paid you? Flynn was asked.

“My speakers bureau. Ask them.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, sits next to retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn at an event marking the 10th anniversary of the RT (Russia Today) news channel in Moscow in December 2015. (Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, sits next to retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn at an event marking the 10th anniversary of the RT (Russia Today) news channel in Moscow in December 2015. (Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)

A spokesman for Leading Authorities did not respond to a request for comment. Flynn, who joined the Trump White House on the day the president was sworn in and resigned late Monday night, is no longer listed on the Leading Authorities website. But an archived section of the website listed Flynn’s “fee ranges” as between $35,001 and $55,000 for talks in Europe and $55,001 and $75,000 in Asia.

At the time of the Dec. 2015 talk, Flynn had already been fired from his position as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and was not yet affiliated with the Trump campaign. But the investigators for the House panel have suggested that Flynn’s compensation by a Russian government arm like RT may still have been improper because of Department of Defense guidelines advising retired military officers that they are still covered by the “emoluments clause” of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits acceptance of any “present, emolument, office or title of any kind from any King, Prince, or foreign government.”

The role of RT in furthering Moscow’s interest was highlighted last month as part of a U.S. intelligence community report on Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In an annex to the report, the intelligence community focused on the role of RT, concluding that “the rapid expansion of RT’s operations and budget and recent candid statements by RT’s leadership point to the channel’s importance to the Kremlin as a messaging tool and indicate a Kremlin-directed campaign to undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest.”

During his Moscow talk, Flynn sat for an extended interview with Shevardnadze in which he expressed his views that the U.S. should avoid taking a confrontational posture with Russia, describing the U.S. relationship with Moscow as a “marriage.”

“The United States can’t sit there and say, ‘Russia, you’re bad,’” Flynn told the RT anchor during a 44-minute interview. “And Russia can’t sit there and say, the United States, you’re bad. … This is a funny marriage we have, Russia and the United States. But it’s a marriage. What we don’t need is for that marriage to break up.”

Flynn resigned as national security adviser last Monday night after disclosures that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about the possible lifting of sanctions against that country. A source close to Flynn told Yahoo News that he has confided to friends that he had multiple conversations with Kislyak — including about talks aimed at reaching a political settlement to the Syrian civil war. But the former DIA chief doesn’t believe he did anything wrong in those talks and attributed his downfall to political infighting within the White House — an apparent reference to a perceived rivalry with chief strategist Steve Bannon.

“He said he went down fighting for his country,” the source who communicated with Flynn said.

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