The Pentagonâs top watchdog has launched an investigation into money that former national security adviser and retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn received from foreign groups, members of the House Oversight Committee said Thursday.
The Pentagon office will try to determine whether Flynn âfailed to obtain required approval prior to receivingâ the payments, according to an April 11 letter from Defense Department Inspector General Glenn A. FineÂ to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the committee chairman.Â In the past, the Pentagon has advised retiring officers that because they can be recalled to military service, they may be subject to the Constitutionâs rarely enforced emoluments clause, which prohibits top officials from receiving payments or favors from foreign governments.
Flynn received $45,000 to appear in 2015 with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a gala dinner for RT, a Kremlin-controlled media organization. He also worked as a foreign agent representing Turkish interests for a Netherlands-based company, Inovo BV, which paid his company, Flynn Intel Group, $530,000 in the fall.
Defense Department guidelines warn that the departmentâs top financial officer, the comptroller, âmay pursue debt collectionâ if a retired officer does not seek permission to accept foreign payments before doing so. Any debt collection due to an emoluments clause violation is capped at no more than what an individual makes in retirement pay during a period of unauthorized employment. In Flynnâs case, that is more than $35,000 for the three months of the Inovo project.
Flynn was fired as national security adviser in February after revelations that he misled Vice President Pence about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States. The pugnacious retired officer, who once led âlock her upâ chants about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during Donald Trumpâs White House campaign, filed paperwork as a foreign agent about three weeks later, on March 7.
Flynnâs lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, has argued that the retired general briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency, from which he retired in 2014, before and after his 2015 Russia trip.
But a letter DIA sent the House committee said that the agency has no record of Flynn seeking permission or approval to accept money from a foreign source, potentially countering Kelnerâs argument. He could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Flynn also did not seek permission from the U.S. government to work as a paid foreign agent for Turkish interests, U.S. defense officials said last month, raising the possibility that the Pentagon could dock his retirement pay. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said then that the Defense Department was reviewing the issue.
The issue involving Turkey emerged after Flynn retroactively registered in March with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for work that his company, Flynn Intel Group, carried out on behalf of Inovo BV. It is owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, who is not a part of the Turkish government but has links to it.
Flynnâs company received three payments between September and November from Inovo BV before Trump was elected president and the arrangement was discontinued, according to Flynnâs filings. Flynn is the majority owner and chief executive officer of the Flynn Intel Group.
On Thursday, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, also released an Oct. 8, 2014, letter in which a Defense Department lawyer warned Flynn upon his retirement from military service that he was forbidden from receiving payments from foreign sources without receiving permission from the U.S. government first.
âThese documents raise grave questions about why Gen. Flynn concealed the payments he received from foreign sources after he was warned explicitly by the Pentagon,â Cummings said. âOur next step is to get the documents we are seeking from the White House so we can complete our investigation.Â I thank the Department of Defense for providing us with unclassified versions of these documents.â
Bruce Anderson, a spokesman for the Defense Department inspector general, said Thursday that the investigation into Flynn began April 4. The watchdogâs office did not discuss the investigation publicly until after the House Oversight Committee released documents about it, and it typically does not disclose what it is reviewing while an investigation is underway.