An unusual thing has been happening with the ongoing investigations into alleged Russian interference in last year’s U.S. presidential election . Rather than leading back to Moscow, as anyone following this long-running saga might assume, the biggest fish caught so far in former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s net, Michael T. Flynn, unexpectedly drew two allied countries into the mix when pleading guilty to charges of lying to investigators.
The main financial connection that the short-lived national security advisor is known to have had with the Russian government is one he reported to his former employer, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA): a 2015 speech in Moscow for the Kremlin funded RT news network, although there is still some question as to whether he properly reported the payment he received.
The background to this is that Flynn, like many former military and national security officials, plied the airwaves as a military and security expert after his retirement, appearing on Fox News, RT and other networks, usually expressing a more partisan, Republican point of view than many of his colleagues. Regardless, the speech he gave at RT’s 10th anniversary celebration netted him $33,750 plus expenses (he also made an equal amount through work for private Russian firms).
While this kind of paid speech-making, arranged in this case by a ‘speakers bureau,’ Leading Authorities Inc., does carry a familiar whiff of corruption, (6) it’s not among the charges in his plea agreement.
Much more lucrative than his speech at the RT gala were the former general’s dealings with one of Russia’s rivals during the Syrian conflict,Turkey, for which he was paid more than half a million dollars.
In November it was widely reported that these Turkish links had been cultivated in the private sector through the work of his self-named Flynn Intel Group (FIG), created shortly after the DIA chief was forced out of his post by former President Obama in 2014.
What’s most disturbing is the allegation, coming from no less august a figure than retired CIA director James Woolsey, who worked for FIG at the time, that the general previously in charge of American military intelligence was considering a plot to forcibly return a legal U.S. resident, Fethullah Gulen, to Turkey. Ankara accuses the cleric, who lives in Pennsylvania, of fomenting a 2016 coup attempt in that country and was reportedly willing to pay $15 million for his ‘rendition.’
This serious accusation, like the RT speech, isn’t included in the charges against Flynn or referenced in his plea agreement.
According to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Statement of Offense, published on December 1st by CNN Politics, along with Flynn’s plea agreement and the court filing related to the case, one of the charges did stem from the FARA filings related to FIG’s advocacy for Turkey, including an editorial that Flynn had published without disclosing these ties:
“In the FARA filings, FLYNN made materially false statements and omissions, including falsely stating that (a) FIG did not know whether or the extent to which the Republic of Turkey was involved in the Turkey project, (b) the Turkey project was focused on improving U.S. business organizations’ confidence regarding doing business in Turkey, and (c) an op-ed by FLYNN published in The Hill on November 8, 2016, was written at his own initiative; and by omitting the officials from the Republic of Turkey provided supervision and direction over the Turkey project.”
The former General certainly broke the rules by making what were determined to be false statements to the FBI about his work as a foreign agent in the employ of Turkey (through a Dutch shell company owned by a Turkish national close to that country’s president, it’s complicated) and did a great disservice to The Hill by not disclosing his obvious conflict of interest when submitting an editorial that played fast and loose with both history and more contemporary facts in painting a picture of Gulen, generally seen as a moderate religious leader, as “Turkey’s Osama Bin Laden.”
At the risk of further damaging Flynn’s reputation and debunking the widely held delusion that those who serve in the military don’t have human failings, it’s important to point out that as part of his work in the private sector, Flynn acted as a paid propagandist for the increasingly authoritarian government of Turkey (not Russia) and that the most logical explanation for doing so was the money he was making, rather than some more noble (or sinister) motive.
A different country, a different story
The other, even closer ally fingered by Flynn was more controversial, and its role in the story was quickly forgotten by the same American cable news networks that have squandered endless hours covering the minutest details of the multiple ongoing investigations. This part of the story actually does involve outreach to Russia, and it also involves another lie, witting or unwitting, told to investigators about a call Flynn made to that country’s ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the transition.
This communication is separate from later calls, also described in the Statement of Offense, received from and made to Kislyak regarding sanctions levied against Russia in the hope that the Kremlin wouldn’t take retaliatory measures before then president elect Trump took office. These conversations were reported back to a transition official.
More interesting than the simple fact of the December 22nd, 2016 call, a little less than a month before Trump became president, was what we now know was discussed: a then upcoming U.N. Security Council vote regarding Israeli settlements from which then President Obama was going to abstain (normally the U.S. vetoes such resolutions but Obama seemed to want to send a parting message to Prime Minister Netanyahu regarding his constant meddling in American politics, especially in regards to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Iran nuclear deal).
It was largely in regards to this communication that Flynn was charged with lying to the FBI as detailed in the Statement of Offense, “Specifically FLYNN falsely stated that he only asked the countries’ positions on the vote, and that he did not request that any of the countries take any particular action on the resolution.”
Flynn, allegedly at the behest of the son-in-law-in-chief, Jared Kushner, had called several ambassadors, including Russia’s, to ask them to delay or vote against the resolution brought by Egypt condemning Israeli settlement construction as a continuing violation of international law (Russia, as expected, voted in favor, meaning Flynn’s intervention came to nothing)..
Thus, the Russiagate trail followed by Robert Mueller has, in a round about way led to… Israel.
While it wasn’t obvious at first, considering how Trump on the campaign trail called for a peaceful resolution to the Israel Palestine conflict leading some to see him as a peace candidate, his speech at AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) in March, 2016 (19) showed that he was likely to play favorites in terms of Israel and the Palestinians in the same way as every president before him.
With his recent announcement that the U.S. officially recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (also in violation of international law in that the city is officially designated a ‘corpus separatum’, a city under international control) he went further than any previous president was willing to go in making the announcement, which has done nothing but provoke more needless suffering there.
His son in law, Kushner, who is still working under an interim security clearance because he has yet to officially obtain one, has been put in charge of the Israel-Palestine peace process. His neutrality should be an issue because he failed to disclose as part of the process toward receiving his security clearance that he was co-director of the Charles and Seryl Kushner Foundation from 2006 to 2015, when the family charity funded at least one illegal Israeli settlement.
This seems like a greater conflict of interest than Mike Flynn’s more seemingly mercenary motivations in terms of his work for the government of Turkey.
Unbelievably, the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital seems to be a part of ham-fisted Trump’s (and possibly his son-in-law’s) ploy to restart the moribund peace process. While it would be nice to view this decision through a purely partisan lens, the Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, has said that the president didn’t make the announcement quickly enough.
It may be that Trump has convinced himself that he can, through the efforts of his son-in-law, working alongside the young Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (in concert with Egypt and his Gulf state cronies) and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, a close friend of the Kushner family, produce what no other president could: a lasting peace deal for Israel. This demonstration of his negotiating power, the ultimate real estate deal, would finally silence the critics of the president’s many failures in business.
While there is always a chance that Trump will again shoot himself in the foot domestically by firing Mueller, a career bureaucrat who has been raised to the level of a latter day Eliot Ness by a supine press that seems to have completely forgotten the FBI’s checkered past, this would likely doom his already legislatively ineffectual presidency.
Although I don’t think any of the investigative bodies looking into Russian ‘interference’ in the 2016 election will find enough proof to bring a criminal case directly related to that country, this doesn’t mean we won’t see more charges like those against Flynn (many expect Kushner to be next). It’s even possible that Mueller and his team will widen the scope of their investigation to some of the president’s shady business interests (for just one example, Trump used a cement company owned by the now deceased New York mafia figure, ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno to build Trump Plaza in the 1980s).
Still, at least in terms of foreign policy, Trump at present appears to be Bibi Netanyahu’s man in Washington, not Vladimir Putin’s.
*As an aside, in regards to the President’s recognition of Jerusalem, Peter Van Buren, who worked for the U.S. State Department for many years, made an important comparison in a recent column that takes the emotional content out of the equation regarding what some people call the ‘Holy City.’
The point he makes is that the United States (and other countries) faced a somewhat similar dilemma in terms of diplomacy when bowing to the reality that they would have to recognize Beijing as the capital of China rather than Taiwan’s capital, Taipei. By setting up a separate, unofficial apparatus in Taiwan, the U.S. mollified its ally while recognizing that the People’s Republic was not going to go away or be conquered by the tiny island that laid claim to it. This still allows all three countries “to focus on the practical day-to-day work of relations without having to address the never-gonna-resolve-it-in-our-lifetimes geopolitical questions first. That’s why these things matter, in East Asia and especially in the Middle East.”