TrumpWatch, Day 198: Mueller Asks White House for Flynn Records

Donald Trump and Michael Flynn
Donald Trump and Michael Flynn

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn investigated over possible secret payments by Turkish Government

Developments on Day 198 of the Trump Administration:

See also Trump’s Hard-Right Allies Try to Oust McMaster as National Security Advisor

Mueller Makes 1st Request to White House in Trump-Russia Investigation

In a marker of his Trump-Russia investigation, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has asked the White House for documents related to the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and his team have questioned witnesses about Flynn’s connections and possibly secret payments by the Turkish Government during the final months of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign.

“People close to the investigation” told The New York Times of the Special Counsel’s request. Although Mueller did not a formal subpoena — days after the revelation that he has empanelled a grand jury with that power in Washington — the summons is the first known instance of a records request to the White House.

Flynn’s company, the Flynn Intel Group, was paid $530,000 in 2016 by a Turkish businessman, Ekim Alptekin, who lobbies for the Turkish Government in Washington. Flynn was reportedly commissioned for a campaign to discredit the cleric Fethullah Gülen, the leading foe of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Gülen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, was an ally of Erdoğan until 2013, when the two men fell out. Ankara accuses the cleric of organizing a failed coup in July 2016.

In March, the Wall Street Journal reported on a September 19, 2016 meeting between Flynn, then an advisor on the Trump campaign, and top Turkish government ministers about removing Gülen from the US and taking him to Turkey.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey, who arrived in the middle of the meetings, said the actions being discussed were possibly illegal: “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away”. Attendees included Erdoğan’s son-in-law and the Turkish Foreign Minister.

Follow the Money

Investigators are examining the flow of money into and out of the Flynn Intel Group, founded by Flynn after he was fired as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014. He also received more than $65,000 from Russian companies connected to the Kremlin.

Taking money from a foreign government is not illegal, but failure to register as a foreign agent is a felony. Flynn did not declare the ties, while he was working on the Trump campaign and then when he took up the post of National Security Advisor. Hiding the source of money through a private company and paying kickbacks to a middleman can also lead to criminal charges.

Flynn was dismissed in mid-February after only 24 days as National Security Advisor over his misleading comments to the FBI about conversations in December 2016 with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

The day after Flynn’s dismissal, Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to drop any investigation, a request which could lead to a finding of obstruction of justice. Comey refused, and he was fired two months later by Trump.

Flynn declined to comment on Mueller’s request to the White House. Ty Cobb, Trump’s special counsel, said, “We’ve said before we’re collaborating with the special counsel on an ongoing basis. It’s full cooperation mode as far as we are concerned.”

Russian Ambassador: “Completely Correct” Communication with US Officials

Sergei Kislyak insisted on Saturday that his discussions with Flynn were above board and did not consider US sanctions on Russia before Trump took office.

The former Russian Ambassador to the US said during a panel discussion on Russian TV:

We only spoke about the most simple things…but the communication was completely correct, calm, absolutely transparent. In any case, there were no secrets on our side.

There are a number of issues which are important for cooperation between Russia and the United States — most of all, terrorism. And that was one of the things we discussed.

Trump Praises Sessions After Attorney General’s Tough Talk on Leakers

After weeks of publicly humiliating Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump has turned to praise of his Attorney General, now apparently safe from dismissal:

Angered that Sessions had recused himself in March from oversight of the ever-expanding Trump-Russia investigation, Trump spent much of July criticizing a “very weak” and “beleaguered” Attorney General. However, conservatives in Congress and the media helped block his dismissal by rallying to his defense.

Sessions then paid penance to Trump on Friday with a press conference in which he promised tough action against “leakers” — the standard Trump excuse to try and divert attention from the Russia inquiry — and threatened journalists who used the information.

See TrumpWatch, Day 197: Sessions Tries the “Leakers” Diversion

Attorney General Issues New Threat to Sanctuary Cities

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issues a new threat against sanctuary cities who protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The Justice Department sent letters to four cities saying that they will not be eligible for a program that provides money to combat drug trafficking and gang crime, unless they give federal immigration authorities access to jails and notify agents before releasing detainees charged with immigration violations.

Baltimore, Albuquerque, and Stockton and San Bernardino in California had all expressed interest in the Justice Department’s Public Safety Partnership.

None of the four declared itself a sanctuary city, but Sessions declared in a statement with the letters: “by taking simple, commonsense considerations into account, we are encouraging every jurisdiction in this country to cooperate with federal law enforcement. That will ultimately make all of us safer – especially law enforcement on our streets.”

The Republican mayor of Albuquerque responded, in a letter to Sessionbs, that he has been trying to work with immigration authorities since taking office in 2009 but that Immigration and Customs Enforcement staffing at the prison transport center has fallen.

“If your agency has questions or concerns with our (Bernalillo) County jails, I would refer you to their leadership,” Raymond Berry wrote.

How Trump Chose His FBI Director with a Tweet

A Politico story, about new Chief of Staff John Kelly and his quest to bring order to a chaotic White House, has a cameo passage about how Donald Trump chose his FBI Director — replacing James Comey, fired in May over the Trump-Russia investigation — through a tweet that surprised his aides:

Advisors believed for days that Trump was likely to pick [former FBI deputy director] John Pistole as FBI director. Inside the administration, three officials said, there was little initial support for Christopher Wray, the former FBI official who was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s attorney in the bridge-closing controversy. “No one really was pushing for Wray,” one senior administration official said.

After talking extensively with Christie, who sold Trump on the former FBI official’s bona fides as a lawyer, Trump decided to go with Wray without telling others on staff, advisers said. White House officials waking up to the tweet were startled, and hurriedly wrote a news release to correspond to it. Much of the president’s inner circle knew little about Wray. Trump was simply tired of the search, these people said.

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