Buried amid the news avalanche that erupted when former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn admitted Friday to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia was confirmation of key details of his work for another foreign nation: Turkey.
Flynn was not charged for his lobbying on behalf of Turkish interests, and his statement of offense made no mention of his alleged involvement in an outlandish plot to kidnap a Muslim cleric. But Flynn admitted that his belated application to register as a foreign agent for his Turkey lobbying was riddled with lies, and that he failed to divulge that the highest levels of Turkey’s government were behind his work.
According to court documents, “Flynn made materially false statements and omissions” in his Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filing with the Justice Department entered in March, shortly after he was forced out of the White House.
As Flynn admitted, the FARA filing falsely stated that his firm, the Flynn Intel Group, “did not know whether or the extent to which the Republic of Turkey was involved” in a project undertaken during the 2016 election to smear Fethullah Gulen, an exiled cleric living in the U.S. and loathed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Flynn also omitted “that officials from the Republic of Turkey provided supervision and direction” over the project and falsely claimed that his Election Day op-ed in The Hill calling for Gulen’s removal from the U.S. wasn’t part of that work.
Despite these remarkable admissions, Flynn, who is now cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, remained defiant. In a statement released after he entered a guilty plea in Washington, D.C. federal court Friday, the retired general called months of reports on his alleged “’treason’ and other outrageous acts” “false” and “contrary to everything I have ever done.”
Flynn Intel Group’s former lobbying client, businessman Ekim Alptekin, is adamantly denying the substance of Flynn’s admissions.
“The Turkish Government did NOT provide supervision or direction to the work I commissioned from Flynn Intel Group,” Alptekin, who paid Flynn some $530,000 for the anti-Gulen work and has close ties to Turkey’s government, wrote on Twitter.
“I cannot understand why Mr. Flynn chose to ‘admit’ a falsehood,” he continued. “My interactions with Mr. Flynn & his colleagues were legal and aboveboard.”
One such interaction involved inviting Flynn to a September 2016 meet with Turkey’s foreign minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law and the country’s energy minister to discuss forcibly transporting Gulen back to his native land, according to the Wall Street Journal. Erdogan believes Gulen masterminded a failed coup attempt against him last summer, and the cleric’s return to Turkey is one of his top priorities, though his government denies he would use extralegal means to secure it.
Flynn also reportedly met with unidentified senior Turkish officials weeks before inauguration to talk about orchestrating the return of Gulen and securing the release of imprisoned Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab in exchange for over $15 million.
The Zarrab case is another sharp thorn in Turkey’s side. Zarrab, who is cooperating with the U.S. federal government, has testified in court that Erdogan and other top politicians engaged in an elaborate scheme to evade U.S. sanctions.
It’s unclear if Zarrab’s testimony could have any implications for Flynn or the Mueller investigation, but his case has intensified rocky relations between the U.S. and Turkey.
In fiery comments to members of his ruling Justice and Development Party reported by Reuters Saturday, Erdogan said that U.S. courts “can never try my country.”