Cummings: White House 'covering up' for Flynn

The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee on Thursday slammed the White House for refusing to comply with a bipartisan request for documents about former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“I honestly do not understand why the White House is covering up for Michael Flynn,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said at a joint appearance with other Democrats criticizing President Trump’s first 100 days in office.

“It makes the American people think the White House has something to hide. There is obviously a paper trail that the White House does not want our committee to follow.”

 

 

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The panel is seeking a wide swath of documents from the White House related to what Flynn reported when he was vetted to become national security adviser.

Cummings, along with committee chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzThe Hill's 12:30 Report Chaffetz: Trump administration 'almost worse' than Obama's on transparency Utah GOP narrows field for Chaffetz seat MORE (R-Utah), told reporters Tuesday that the former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) head might have broken the law by accepting payments from Russia and Turkey, and later by misleading the government about them.

But the White House is refusing to provide the documents, calling the breadth of the request “extraordinary.”

White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said the committee is requesting documents that are not in the possession of the White House because they involved Flynn’s activity prior to Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration. Other documents sought by the committee from after Jan. 20 involve sensitive information, he said.

“It is unclear how such documents would be relevant to the stated purpose of the committee’s review, which according to your letter is to examine Lt. Gen. Flynn’s disclosure of payments related to activities that occurred in 2015 and 2016, prior to his service in the White House,” Short wrote in a letter dated April 19 that was sent to committee leaders.

The refusal to cooperate has left unanswered questions about the extent to which the White House was aware of Flynn’s activities, which are now under investigation by the DIA inspector general.

In December of 2015, Flynn was paid $45,000 to speak at an event hosted in Moscow by the Kremlin-backed network RT, during which he was seated with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also received payments for additional speeches to Russian firms Kaspersky and Volga Dnepr.

It is illegal under the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution for a former military officer to accept payment from a foreign government without receiving prior approval from both the secretary of Army and the secretary of State.

And according to a 2014 letter to Flynn from the DIA — released in redacted form by Cummings on Thursday — the agency warned him to “be sure to obtain advance approval from the Army prior to acceptance” of any such payment.

Further, according to an April letter from the DIA to the Oversight Committee also released on Thursday, Flynn did not disclose the RT payment when he applied to renew his security clearance in January 2016, just a month after he traveled to Moscow.

Some outside ethics experts have suggested that the White House should have caught the discrepancy during the vetting process.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Flynn’s lawyer claimed that he briefed the DIA “extensively” both before and after the 2015 trip.

Press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday attempted to argue that the White House was not responsible for catching Flynn’s activities.

“That would be a question for [Flynn] and a law enforcement agency. I don’t know what he filled out or what he did and did not do — he filled that form out prior to coming here,” Spicer said when asked whether Flynn broke any laws.

On Tuesday, both Chaffetz and Cummings were careful to say that they don’t think the White House is obstructing their investigation — but Cummings on Thursday took a much more forceful tone.

“If Republicans walk away from this — if they back down without getting a single shred of paper from the White House —  that would undermine whatever faith the American people have left in Congress,” he said Thursday.