Guest Opinion: Questions about Flynn's Russia ties persist
Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, was fired weeks ago, but his ties to Russia keep raising questions this White House won’t answer and dark suspicions it can’t seem to dispel.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Elijah Cummings, the committee’s top Democrat, got right to the point on Tuesday, saying Mr. Flynn may have broken the law by failing to disclose payments totaling more than $65,000 in 2015 from companies linked to Russia. They included $45,000 received from Russian state television for a speech in Moscow; on the same trip, he attended the network’s gala, sitting at the elbow of President Vladimir Putin. With his background, Mr. Flynn clearly knew that the failure to disclose payments on his security clearance forms could have disqualified him for a sensitive national security role.
Mr. Chaffetz also said Mr. Flynn, as a retired general and former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, should have sought permission from the secretary of state and the secretary of the Army for his trip to Russia and for the payment. “I see no evidence that he actually did that,” Mr. Chaffetz said at a news conference on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Cummings said that the White House is stonewalling committee requests for documents related to Mr. Flynn’s hiring and firing, including records of his phone calls and correspondence. Mr. Chaffetz, amazingly, described the White House as “cooperative.” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, later called the committee’s records requests “outlandish” and “ridiculous.” Which can hardly be called cooperative.
The fact remains, though, that a Republican committee chairman has said Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser concealed payments from Russia while Moscow was under investigation for meddling in the election, and that deepens an already serious problem for this White House.
After Mr. Flynn was fired in February, he disclosed that he’d been working as a foreign agent throughout the campaign, collecting more than $500,000 in consulting fees from a Turkish company with ties to both Ankara and Moscow. He registered as a foreign agent only after he left the White House.
These aren’t simple bookkeeping errors on Mr. Flynn’s part: Failure to disclose foreign payments is a federal offense that carries a potential five-year prison term. Richard Painter, White House ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, wrote on Twitter: “US House must subpoena the docs. If no compliance, impeach. Zero tolerance for WH covering up foreign payoffs.”
If Mr. Chaffetz believes, as he said, that Mr. Flynn may have violated the law, he should unleash his committee’s formidable investigative powers. Yet he has declined to open an investigation, or subpoena the records the White House is withholding. Mr. Chaffetz said on Tuesday that he would defer to existing investigations by the Pentagon and the House Intelligence Committee. What’s really needed is a special prosecutor, because each time this administration is given a chance to clean up its Russia mess, it works instead to keep the facts under cover.