Five questions investigators want to ask Michael Flynn
President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has volunteered to be interviewed by the FBI and congressional committees probing possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the development Thursday evening, which comes a month and a half after Flynn was forced to resign amid revelations that he misled administration officials, including Vice President Pence, about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States.
The House and Senate Intelligence committees don’t yet appear to be biting. Reports surfaced Friday that the Senate panel had so far rejected Flynn’s request.
Still, Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has strongly implied that the committee would like to interview Flynn.
A spokesman for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told The Hill that his panel had a “preliminary conversation” with Flynn’s lawyer about arranging for him to speak to the panel but noted the discussions did not include immunity or other potential conditions of his appearance.
Flynn’s testimony could provide valuable information to members of the committees as well as the FBI, all of which have launched their own probes into Russia’s election meddling.
Here are five questions that FBI investigators and members of Congress might have for Flynn should they reach an agreement to interview him.
Who knew what about Flynn’s Russia contacts, and when did they know it?
Flynn could be questioned about which associates of Trump — including the president himself — knew about his associations with Russia, what they knew, and when they knew it.
He also could be asked to provide more information about the nature of his encounters with the Russian ambassador, as well as any other individuals linked to Moscow.
Flynn resigned as national security adviser in February after the Washington Post reported that he discussed sanctions on Russia with Kislyak before Trump’s inauguration despite public denials by White House officials, including Pence. Flynn acknowledged that he had provided “incomplete information” to administration officials.
“The starting points [are] like with any other type of case,” Mark Zaid, an attorney who specializes in national security cases, told The Hill. “Who, what, when, and why. When did he first have conversations with which Russians, and why? And who, if anyone, told him to do it?
Zaid said investigators would also want to know when the conversations took place, and that they would be looking for evidence of any possible quid pro quo with regard to sanctions.
What did the Trump campaign know about Flynn’s payments from sources in Russia and Turkey?
Flynn filed papers with the Justice Department in early March registering himself as a foreign agent. The papers revealed that his firm was paid over $500,000 to lobby on behalf of a Dutch-based firm owned by a Turkish businessman as he serve as a campaign adviser. The owner of Inovo BV, the Dutch-based firm, has ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The White House has denied that Trump knew about Flynn’s lobbying work, though it acknowledged that lawyers for the transition team were informed he might have to register as a foreign agent.
Additionally, records obtained by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and released by ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings in mid-March showed that Flynn had been paid over $45,000 by Russian state-owned media outlet RT to attend a gala in Moscow in December 2015 at which he was photographed dining next to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Democrats have alleged that the payment could constitute a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bars top officials from taking money from foreign governments.
The new documents also showed that Flynn received thousands of dollars in 2015 from a Russian charter cargo airline and an American subsidiary of Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab. His payments from Russia-related organizations totaled nearly $68,000.
Less than a week later, committee leaders requested documents from the White House FBI, Pentagon, and Director of National Intelligence related to Flynn’s contacts with and payments from foreign sources. Flynn served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) before resigning in August 2014.
“I would want to know more about any financial payments that he took before being with Trump and also post-DIA to now,” Zaid said.
What information does he have about other associates of Trump’s campaign who may have had contact with Russians?
FBI Director James Comey has said the bureau’s probe of the election includes looking into the nature of any links between individuals associated with Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Flynn could be crucial to understanding any links between other Trump campaign associates and the Russian government.
Three other people have come under heavy scrutiny: Carter Page, who briefly advised Trump on foreign policy and who has ties to Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom; Roger Stone, a longtime Trump ally who has admitted to having contact with Guccifer 2.0, the hacker who claimed responsibility for the Democratic National Committee breach, during the campaign; and Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman who has come under fire for his work for pro-Russian oligarchs.
Flynn could face questions about any contacts between Russian individuals and these and other Trump associates.
Flynn could also provide information about other Trump associates’ communications with Kislyak. These included former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, now Trump’s attorney general, who spoke twice with Kislyak last year but did not disclose the contacts during his confirmation proceedings. Session later recused himself from investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign.
Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, also met with Kislyak at Trump Tower in December. Flynn attended the meeting, which the White House told the New York Times was meant to “establish a line of communication” between the new administration and the Kremlin.
What did the Trump campaign know about campaign aides’ past ties to Russia?
Since Manafort stepped down as campaign chairman last August, more information has emerged about his past work for pro-Russian figures, which has raised questions about how much Trump’s campaign knew about his history before bringing him on.
Most recently, the Associated Press reported that Manafort worked for a Russian billionaire as far back as a decade before the presidential election in order to advance the interests of Putin’s government.
Flynn would likely be questioned on what he or members of the campaign knew about Manafort’s past associations, as well as those of Page, who had a history of pro-Russian rhetoric.
“What was Manafort doing, especially when he was campaign manager? What did the Trump campaign know about these individuals’ prior connections to Russia, to Ukraine?” Zaid observed.
Did Flynn have any other foreign contacts besides Russia?
Flynn’s past lobbying on behalf of the firm linked to Turkey raises questions about whether he may have had other contacts with foreign sources during the campaign.
“The whole notion of why Flynn said he was talking to the Russian ambassador in the first place was, ‘this is what we do as a transition. We’re talking to foreign leaders, foreign dignitaries.’ Well, what else was going on with respect to that?” Zaid said. “Who else was he talking to?”