Trump officials were warned about Mike Flynn at least 6 separate times before firing him

 

  • Top officials on the Trump transition team and in President Donald Trump's administration were repeatedly warned about hiring Michael Flynn.
  • They were warned that Flynn could be subject to blackmail by Russians due to his conversations with the then-Russian ambassador.
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller is examining why it took so long to fire Flynn.


President Donald Trump's transition team — and, later, his nascent administration — was warned at least six separate times about former national security adviser Michael Flynn's potential conflicts of interest and compromising conversations with then-Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

But Flynn was not asked to step down until February 13, nearly a month into his tenure as the country's senior-most national security official.

That timeline has become a focus for special counsel Robert Mueller, who is examining why it took 18 days for the White House to fire Flynn after a stark warning from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates. She told the White House counsel that Flynn had purportedly lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his calls with Kislyak.

That was far from the first time, however, that an official had urged Trump and his advisers to rethink bringing Flynn into the White House.

Yates was at least the fourth person, by January 26, to sound the alarm. And she warned White House counsel Don McGahn about Flynn in two separate meetings and a phone call before she was fired on January 30 for unrelated reasons.

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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.

(Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

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.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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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Obama's warnings

The first warning came from President Barack Obama on November 10. A former Obama White House official confirmed to Business Insider on Monday that Obama cautioned Trump against appointing Flynn "based on the president's experience with Flynn in his administration."

"President Obama underscored with President-Elect Trump how important a role the NSA is — and how it demanded a serious person with sound judgment, impeccable credentials, and unimpeachable character," the official said. "In other words, 44 [Obama] relied heavily on his National Security Advisors and wanted to convey how critical the job had been in our administration."

White House special counsel Ty Cobb characterized Flynn as a "former Obama administration official" following Flynn's guilty plea earlier this month. Trump has pointed to the fact that Flynn's security clearance was renewed in January 2016 as evidence that Flynn was once trusted by high-level officials. 

But the Trump White House has failed to note that Obama fired Flynn as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in 2014 — and that his security clearance would have been renewed at the DIA level rather than by the upper echelons of the Obama White House.

Former national security adviser Susan Rice noted in April that the renewal of Flynn's security clearance by the DIA would have been "a very separate thing ... from the vetting that goes into the appointment of any senior White House official, or any senior administration official."

The vetting of Flynn by the Trump White House, by contrast, either failed to detect or overlooked the fact that Flynn had been lobbying on behalf of Turkish government interests throughout the latter half of 2016. Flynn also reportedly brought with him into the White House a private project he had been working on to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East.

A top congressman's warnings

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in March, just after Flynn registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department, that Trump had not been aware that Flynn had been paid to lobby for Turkish interests in the months before the US election.

But both The Daily Caller and Politico reported on November 14 that Flynn's consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group Inc., had been hired to lobby for Turkish interests. And on November 18, just over a week after Obama warned Trump about Flynn, Rep. Elijah Cummings sent Pence a letter requesting more information about the potential conflicts of interest posed by Flynn's lobbying work.

"Recent news reports have revealed that Lt. Gen. Flynn was receiving classified briefings during the presidential campaign while his consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, Inc., was being paid to lobby the U.S. Government on behalf of a foreign government's interests," said Cummings, the ranking Democratic member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Cummings told Business Insider through his office at the time that he believes "the problems that have occurred with Lt. Gen. Flynn" could have been avoided had Pence heeded his warnings. Pence headed Trump's transition team, but he has insisted that he did not know about Flynn's lobbying work or conversations with the Russian ambassador prior to Flynn's ouster in February.

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Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective
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Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective
June 7: The 2016 primary season essentially concludes, with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as the presumptive party nominees
June 9: Donald Trump Jr. — along with Jared Kushner and former campaign chair Paul Manafort — meets with Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
June 9: Trump tweets about Clinton's missing 33,000 emails
July 18: Washington Post reports, on the first day of the GOP convention, that the Trump campaign changed the Republican platform to ensure that it didn't call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces
July 21: GOP convention concludes with Trump giving his speech accepting the Republican nomination
July 22: WikiLeaks releases stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee
July 25: Democratic convention begins
July 27: In final news conference of his 2016 campaign, Trump asks Russia: "If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing"
August 4: Obama CIA Director John Brennan confronts his Russian counterpart about Russia's interference. "[I] told him if you go down this road, it's going to have serious consequences, not only for the bilateral relationship, but for our ability to work with Russia on any issue, because it is an assault on our democracy," Brennan said on "Meet the Press" yesterday.
October 4: WikiLeaks' Julian Assange says his organization will publish emails related to the 2016 campaign
October 7: WikiLeaks begins releasing Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta's emails
October 7: Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence release a statement directly saying that Russia is interfering in the 2016 election
October 31: "This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove," Trump says on the campaign trail
November 4: "Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," Trump says from Ohio.
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Chris Christie's warnings

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who led the Trump transition team before his abrupt dismissal on November 11, said recently that he believes he was fired largely because he warned transition officials against hiring Flynn as national security adviser.

Two people familiar with transition team deliberations told Politico last month that Christie expressed concern about Flynn being "in a leadership position."

"We were active in the effort to stymie his advances,” one former transition official told the publication. “But Trump liked him. It seemed to me that they were going to take care of him.”

Flynn apparently crashed a meeting at Trump Tower in the days following the election in which Christie presented his suggestions for top national security roles in the incoming administration. He told the group — which included Ivanka Trump, Steve Bannon, and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions — that he wanted to be either secretary of state, secretary of defense, or national security adviser, according to Politico.

He was ultimately given the national security role in large part, reports suggest, because of his loyalty to Trump during the campaign.

"Suffice to say, I had serious misgivings, which I think have been confirmed by the fact that he pled guilty to a felony in federal court," Christie said at a press conference last week. 

Asked who he would have appointed instead of Flynn, Christie replied: "It's in about four volumes of books that were apparently thrown out the day I was terminated."

Bannon, the former White House chief strategist who was then a top transition adviser, and Flynn "celebrated" Christie's dismissal "by tossing binders full of potential personnel picks, carefully culled by Christie’s team, into trash bins with a sense of ceremonial glee," according to Politico.

Christie said last week that he thinks "what folks who were involved in that transition have now painfully learned at the expense of the country is that experience matters."

Sally Yates' warnings

Yates, the former acting attorney general, told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee earlier this year that she had had "two in-person meetings and one phone call" with the White House counsel in January to warn about Flynn's contact with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, during the election. 

Yates said she called McGahn with "a very sensitive matter" that she needed to discuss with him in person. She and another career Justice Department official then traveled to the White House to meet with McGahn and one of his associates in his office, where she told them that there had been press accounts related to Flynn's conduct that the DOJ "knew to be untrue."

"We told them how we had this information, how we had acquired it, and how we knew it was untrue," Yates recalled.

While he was vice president-elect, Pence insisted in an interview with CBS that Flynn and Kislyak "did not discuss anything having to do with the United States' decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia" — a statement that turned out to be untrue and that set off alarm bells at the Justice Department.

Yates said the Russians "also knew what Flynn had done, and that he had misled the vice president and others."

"This was a problem, because the Russians likely had proof of this information, which created a situation where he could be blackmailed by the Russians," she said. We told them we were giving them this information so they could take action. McGahn asked me if Flynn should be fired. I said that wasn't my call."

Yates met with McGahn again on January 27, when McGahn asked her why the DOJ cared if "one White House official lied to another." He also wanted to know if the Department of Justice was pursuing a criminal case against Flynn, and expressed concern that firing Flynn could "interfere with the FBI taking action against" him.

McGahn also asked Yates to see the DOJ's evidence of Flynn's conversations with Kislyak.

The FBI interviewed Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak on January 24 as part of its probe into Russia's election interference. That is when Flynn apparently misled the federal agents, telling them that the issue of US sanctions on Russia had not been discussed when in fact it had.

Yates said she could not disclose to McGahn "how Flynn did" in that initial FBI interview because the investigation was ongoing. But she indicated to him that Flynn told the FBI the same thing he had told Mike Pence.

Yates called McGahn again on January 30 — hours before she was fired by Trump for refusing to enforce his first travel ban — to tell him that he could come over to the DOJ to review the details of Flynn's communication with Kislyak.

Neither McGahn nor his lawyer have returned requests for comment about whether McGahn ever took the DOJ up on that offer. Yates testified that she didn't know if they ever did, because she was fired shortly thereafter.

Yates told Democratic Sen. Chris Coons that, in the course of the meetings, "Mr. McGahn demonstrated that he understood that this was serious." But she said she didn't know if the White House took any additional steps to restrict Flynn's access to sensitive or classified information.

"If they didn't take any action," she said, "that would certainly be concerning."

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