House Democrats sent special counsel Robert Mueller what they claim is evidence that former national security adviser Michael Flynn illegally failed to disclose a trip he took to the Middle East attempting to explore a business deal with the Saudi government and a Russian government agency and subsequent payments from the business trip. Coming just one day after news broke that Flynn was refusing to testify to Congress, this is just the latest sign that President Trump’s former national security adviser remains in serious legal jeopardy.
Flynn, a retired three-star general who once led a chant of “lock her up” against Hillary Clinton at the Republican national convention, has emerged as a central figure in multiple investigations into possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.The House Democrats, Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the oversight committee, and New York Representative Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House foreign affairs committee, sent the letter to Mueller as information emerged as a result of multiple congressional probes into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
In particular, U.S. congressional investigators are examining whether Michael Flynn developed and secretly promoted a plan by private business interests to build US-Russian nuclear power plants in the Middle East while he was serving in the White House. Congressional investigators allege that the plan, which Flynn began during the campaign and continued once he joined the White House, involved a Russian state-owned company currently under U.S. sanctions
Under the proposed deal, American consulting would partner with the Saudi government and Rosatom, Russia’s government-run nuclear energy agency, to build 16 nuclear energy plants in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis would then sell that energy to eight other Sunni Arab countries, including Egypt and Jordan. As part of the deal, these countries would also buy military hardware from Russia, according to the companies’ letters provided to Democrats.
The sale of Russian arms would likely have been facilitated by Rosoboron, a Russian state-run weapons exporter, according to an internal presentation of one of the companies involved which was published by Newsweek. The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the Russian state-run company, Rosoboron, for violating US laws prohibiting weapons sales to Iran, Syria and North Korea. In another internal slide published by Newsweek, the project claimed that Rosoboron would provide “total regional security” for the project.
An attorney for ACU Strategic Partners, one of the companies involved in the project, provided CNN with a copy of its letter explaining the virtues of the energy project, saying it would bolster national security and provide stability in the Mideast while improving “relations with Russia.”
Thomas Cochran of ACU said that he believed the plan was seen by both President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as a “valuable private sector mechanism” for stabilizing and improving relations with Russia. The joint Saudi-Russian project was allegedly also seen as a way to accelerate U.S.-Russia cooperation in the Middle East, a top foreign policy goal for Trump.
In June, Newsweek reported that Flynn traveled to the Middle East to broker the deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia’s nuclear power agency. The House Democrats’ letter claimed that it had confirmed from three sources that, as part of this plan, Flynn traveled to Egypt and Israel in June 2015 to promote the project, where he met with government officials.
Investigators determined that Flynn did not report the trip “as part of his security clearance renewal process.” They also noted that “[s]oon after he took this trip, Saudi Arabia announced an agreement with Russia’s state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, that resulted in a $100 billion deal in 2016 to build 16 nuclear power units.”
Flynn’s Legal Jeopardy:
According to CNN, Flynn is under scrutiny by Mueller on several fronts, including his links to Russia, his calls to the Russian ambassador during the transition period, and the undisclosed lobbying he did for Turkey last year. Mueller issued grand jury subpoenas in the spring as part of his investigation into Flynn’s dealings.
Beyond the specific details of the proposed nuclear-deal, one area of the law is remarkably clear. Flynn remains in deep legal jeopardy under both federal disclosure laws, including security clearance violations, and making false statements to federal authorities, including the FBI. Flynn may have violated federal law on multiple fronts in his actions taken to further the nuclear partnership deal. Specifically, by failing to disclose a trip he took to the Middle East in June 2015 where he met with foreign government officials on his SF-86 security clearance form, Flynn may have violated 18 U.S. Code § 1001, which makes giving false statements to federal authorities a felony punishable by five years in prison.
In addition to the disclosure violations, Flynn may have also lied to the FBI in an interview back in February. According to the New York Times, Flynn first told the FBI during his December phone call to Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak that Russian sanctions did not come up. He later backtracked, telling the Daily Caller that he did not discuss or use the word “sanctions” but instead did discuss the Obama administration’s expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats it said were “intelligence operatives,” the very same move that was a part of the sanctions package announced on Dec. 29.
There is also a possibility that Flynn may have violated the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which restricts members of the United States government from receiving gifts from foreign states without permission from Congress. When Flynn traveled to Russia for an appearance at an event, he was paid tens of thousands of dollars from three Russian companies, including RT, the Kremlin-controlled TV network that yesterday was forced to register as a “foreign agent,” disseminating propaganda in the U.S.
These payments themselves may have been illegal if they are considered by prosecutors, “emoluments” from a foreign state. In April, Former Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who at the time was the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight, said that he saw “no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law,” he continued, “as a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey or anybody else, and it appears as if he did take that money. It was inappropriate, and there are repercussions for a violation of law.”
The potential legal violations offer Mueller a powerful tool in his investigation. Mueller may use the threat of jail time as a result of the felony violation to persuade Flynn to cooperate in exchange for leniency. For his part, Flynn appears to be amicable to this concept, requesting immunity in exchange for testimony as far back as March.
• President Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn secretly promoted and attempted to broker a $100 billion nuclear power plant deal to build US-Russian nuclear power plants in the Middle East while he was serving in the White House. One of the companies involved in the proposed deal, Russian state-run arms exporter Rosoboron, is also currently under U.S. sanctions. The deal would see the Saudi government and Russia’s government-run nuclear energy agency partner to build 16 nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia. The excess power would then be sold to eight other Sunni Arab countries. As part of the deal, the countries would also buy military hardware from Russia through Rosoboron.
• According to one of the companies involved, the plan was seen by both President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as a “valuable private sector mechanism” for stabilizing and improving relations with Russia. The joint Saudi-Russian project was reportedly seen as a way to accelerate U.S.-Russia cooperation in the Middle East, a top foreign policy goal for Trump.
• Flynn is in serious legal jeopardy on multiple legal fronts. He faces potential felony charges as a result of his omissions and statements for making false statements to federal authorities that carry the penalty of up to five years in prison.
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