Ex-Trump aide Michael Flynn under scrutiny over possible million-dollar Turkey deal


WASHINGTON — Federal investigators are examining whether former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn met with senior Turkish officials just weeks before President Donald Trump's inauguration about a potential quid pro quo in which Flynn would be paid to carry out directives from Ankara secretly while in the White House, according to multiple people familiar with the investigation.

Investigators for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russia's interference with the U.S. presidential election recently questioned witnesses about the alleged December 2016 meeting between Flynn and senior Turkish officials, two people knowledgeable with the interviews said. The questions were part of a line of inquiry regarding Flynn's lobbying efforts on behalf of Turkey.

Four people familiar with the investigation said Mueller is looking into whether Flynn discussed in the late December meeting orchestrating the return to Turkey of a chief rival of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who lives in the U.S. Additionally, three people familiar with the probe said investigators are examining whether Flynn and other participants discussed a way to free a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab, who is jailed in the U.S. Zarrab is facing federal charges that he helped Iran skirt U.S. sanctions. 

Mueller is specifically examining whether the deal, if successful, would have led to millions of dollars in secret payments to Flynn, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.

Related: Mueller Has Enough Evidence to Bring Charges in Flynn Investigation

The meeting allegedly took place at the upscale 21 Club restaurant in New York, just blocks away from Trump Tower, where Flynn was serving on the presidential transition team. Flynn was offered upwards of $15 million, to be paid directly or indirectly, if he could complete the deal, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.

It is unclear how Flynn, as national security adviser, could have successfully carried out either alleged request. But any deal in which a government official would be bribed to secretly act on behalf of a foreign government could potentially constitute multiple federal crimes.

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Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
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Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
National security adviser General Michael Flynn delivers a statement daily briefing at the White House in Washington U.S., February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn arrives at the Trump Tower for meetings with US President-elect Donald Trump, in New York on November 17, 2016.

(EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Retired United States Army lieutenant general Michael T. Flynn introduces Republican Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump before he delivered a speech at The Union League of Philadelphia on September 7, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Trump spoke about his plans to build up the military if elected. Recent national polls show the presidential race is tightening with two months until the election.

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Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, at podium, and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attend a campaign event with veterans at the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Ave., NW, where Trump stated he believes President Obama was born in the United States, September 16, 2016.

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WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (L) yields the briefing room podium to National Security Adviser Michael Flynn February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Flynn said the White House is 'officially putting Iran on notice' for a recent missile test and support for Houthi rebels in Yemen. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, prepares to testify at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled 'Current and Future Worldwide Threats,' featuring testimony by he and James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C) arrives prior to a joint news conference between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn boards Air Force One at West Palm Beach International airport in West Palm Beach, Florida U.S., February 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
National security adviser General Michael Flynn arrives to deliver a statement during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington U.S., February 1, 2017. Picture taken February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (L) arrives at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 10: (AFP OUT) White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (R) walks down the West Wing Colonnade following a bilateral meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe February 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump and Abe are expected to discuss many issues, including trade and security ties and will hold a joint press confrence later in the day. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 02: (L-R) SCAD Dramatic writing professor Chris Auer, Producer Sandra Leviton, Executive producer and writer Michael Flynn, Tv literary agent Jeff Greenberg and Literary manager and producer Kaila York speak on stage during the 'Inside the Writers Room' event on Day One of aTVfest 2017 presented by SCAD on February 2, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SCAD)
Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (ret.), National Security Advisor Designate speaks during a conference on the transition of the US Presidency from Barack Obama to Donald Trump at the US Institute Of Peace in Washington DC, January 10, 2017. / AFP / CHRIS KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, U.S. national security advisor, attends a swearing in ceremony of White House senior staff in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. Trump today mocked protesters who gathered for large demonstrations across the U.S. and the world on Saturday to signal discontent with his leadership, but later offered a more conciliatory tone, saying he recognized such marches as a hallmark of our democracy. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Michael Flynn walks out after a morning worship service on Inauguration day at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, DC on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) (R), talks with National Security Advisor Michael Flynn inside of the inaugural parade reviewing stand in front of the White House on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Donald Trump was sworn in as the nation's 45th president today. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, White House national security adviser-designate, center, stands in an elevator at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Donald Trump is slated to meet with AT&T Inc.'s top executives on Thursday to discuss the company's proposed $85.4 billion bid for Time Warner Inc., according to people familiar with the matter. The president-elect has said he opposes the deal. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Donald Trump's National Security Adviser Gen. Michael T. Flynn (R) arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (ret.) and National Security Advisor Designate and Ambassador Susan Rice, National Security Advisor during a ceremonial passing of authority while participating in a conference on the transition of the US Presidency from Barack Obama to Donald Trump at the US Institute Of Peace in Washington DC, January 10, 2017. / AFP / CHRIS KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Investigators also are looking into what possible role Flynn's son, Michael G. Flynn, may have played in any such efforts. The younger Flynn worked closely with his father at his lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group.

Related: Flynn's Son Is Subject of Federal Probe

The elder Flynn was fired in February after just 24 days as Trump's national security adviser when it became public that he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other Trump officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

NBC News reported Sunday that federal investigators looking into Russia's intervention in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign have gathered enough evidence to bring charges in the investigation into Flynn.

The grand jury is continuing to interview witnesses with knowledge of Flynn's business activities over the next week, two people familiar with the deliberations said.

The elder Flynn's lawyer, Robert Kelner, did not respond to requests for comment. The younger Flynn's lawyer, Barry Coburn, declined comment.

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Members past and present of President Trump's inner circle
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Members past and present of President Trump's inner circle
Ivanka Trump: First daughter and presidential adviser
Gen. John Kelly: Former Secretary of Homeland Security, current White House chief of staff
Steve Bannon: Former White House chief strategist, no longer with the Trump administration
Jared Kushner: Son-in-law and senior adviser
Kellyanne Conway: Former Trump campaign manager, current counselor to the president
Reince Priebus: Former White House chief of staff, no longer with the Trump administration
Anthony Scaramucci: Former White House communications director, no longer with the Trump administration
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: White House press secretary
Donald Trump Jr.: First son to President Trump
Sean Spicer: Former White House press secretary, soon to be no longer with the Trump administration
Jeff Sessions: U.S. attorney general
Steve Mnuchin: Secretary of Treasury
Paul Manafort: Former Trump campaign chairman
Carter Page: Former foreign policy adviser to Trump's presidential campaign
Omarosa Manigault: Director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison
Melania Trump: Wife to President Trump and first lady of the United States
Jason Miller: Former White House communications director, no longer with the Trump administration
Hope Hicks: White House Director of Strategic Communications
Mike Dubke: Former White House communications director, no longer with the Trump administration
Stephen Miller: Trump senior policy adviser
Corey Lewandowski: Former Trump campaign manager
Eric Trump: Son to President Trump
Rex Tillerson: Secretary of State
Michael Flynn: Former National Security Advisor, no longer with the Trump administration
Sebastian Gorka: Former deputy assistant to the president in the Trump administration, no longer in his White House role
Roger Stone: Former Trump campaign adviser, current host of Stone Cold Truth
Betsy DeVos: U.S. Education Secretary
Gary Cohn, director of the U.S. National Economic Council, walks toward Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, July 5, 2017. President Donald Trump's encounter this week at the Group of 20 summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin is raising concerns among veteran American diplomats and analysts about a mismatch between a U.S. president new to global affairs and a wily former Soviet spymaster. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Erdoğan has repeatedly pressed U.S. officials to extradite the cleric, Fethullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania. Turkey blames Gülen for the attempted coup in that country in July 2016. Erdoğan also has repeatedly raised Zarrab's case with U.S. officials.

Rudy Giuliani, who was a top Trump campaign surrogate alongside Flynn, is part of Zarrab's defense team. The New York Times reported that Giuliani met with Erdoğan in late February and discussed an agreement under which Zarrab would be freed in exchange for Turkey's help furthering U.S. interests in the region. 

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Erdoğan said he had previously raised Zarrab's case with then-Vice President Joe Biden and suggested Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, was acting on behalf of supporters of Gülen, according to the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet. Trump fired Bharara this past March.

NBC News reported Sunday that federal investigators were looking into whether Flynn tried to push for the return of Gülen to Turkey once in the White House in exchange for millions of dollars, and that Trump administration officials asked the FBI to review the Gülen case anew. Officials said the FBI denied the request because Turkey had not provided any new evidence in the case, which was reviewed by the Obama administration.

Extradition requests are processed through the State Department and U.S. justice system and are not determined by the White House or other agencies.

The possibility of the multimillion-dollar deal involving Flynn and Turkey arose as investigators examined Flynn's past dealings with foreign governments.

Flynn was paid $530,000 last year during the 2016 campaign for work he did during the campaign that the Justice Department says benefited the Turkish government. Flynn did not register as a foreign agent at the time, as is required in the U.S. for anyone working for a foreign government. His lawyer later said Flynn didn't need to register because his client was a Turkish businessman not a government official, though he opted to do so retroactively.

According to Flynn's Justice Department filing, his firm, Flynn Intel Group, was hired to gather information about Gülen, and to produce a short film about its findings.

The contract ended the day after Trump won the election.

As a top foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign at the time, and then as national security adviser, Flynn played a leading role in shaping Trump's policy decisions on Turkey.

Among Flynn's decisions as incoming national security adviser was telling the outgoing national security adviser, Susan Rice, not to move forward with a planPresident Barack Obama approved to arm Syrian Kurds in the ISIS fight. Turkey opposed the plan.

Obama officials, who had notified Flynn of the plan in early January because it would continue on Trump's watch, said they were surprised. Flynn said he didn't trust Obama on the plan, which the Trump administration approved after he was fired as national security adviser.

The decision on arming the Kurds came several weeks after Flynn held that key meeting with Turkish officials where the alleged deal for a "grab fee" for Gülen was discussed.

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