Flynn discloses lobbying that may have helped Turkey
Michael Flynn, who was fired from President Donald Trump’s national security team last month, has retroactively registered with the Justice Department for work he did that may have benefited the government of Turkey.
His now-defunct firm, the Flynn Intel Group, notified the government on Wednesday that it had done work for Inovo BV, a privately owned consulting firm in the Netherlands run by Turkish businessman Kamil Alptekin, beginning in August 2016.
From August through mid-November, the Flynn Intel Group received $530,000 from Inovo, according to the forms filed with the Justice Department. Flynn shut down his firm in November.
The firm then sub-contracted with S.G.R. LLC Government Relations and Lobbying — who also retroactively registered with the Justice Department this week — paying it $40,000. Disclosures also list Flynn’s firm paying out others, in “consultancy fees,” and for “administrative support,” videography and editing services.
At the time, Flynn was a military adviser to the Trump campaign.
The filings, signed by Flynn himself, say the three-month contract included conducting “investigative research” and retaining “an experienced filming and production crew in order to develop a short film piece on the results of its investigation, and a public affairs firm to utilize for public affairs as needed.”
The documentary — which included interviews with undisclosed individuals — was reportedly never finished or distributed. It centered on Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric exiled in the United States who is wanted by the Turkish government.
S.G.R. LLC made contacts with Tim Griffin, a former Republican congressman now lieutenant governor of Arkansas, and Miles Taylor, a staffer on the House Homeland Security Committee, regarding Gulen and charter schools he runs. The firm also contacted reporters and media outlets.
On Sept. 19, Flynn’s firm met with a “group of government officials from Turkey for the purpose of understanding better the political climate in Turkey at the time, as background for the project.”
Two months later, Flynn penned an op-ed article in The Hill entitled “Our ally Turkey is in crisis and needs our support,” which the DOJ filing says was “ based, in part, on the research conducted by Flynn Intel Group under the Inovo engagement.”
In the piece, which published on Election Day, Flynn calls Gulen a “radical Islamist” who “portrays himself as a moderate.”
Turkey blames Gulen for orchestrating the unsuccessful coup against the government last July that resulted in the death of 300 soldiers and civilians.
However, disclosures say there were no outside influences — including Inovo or the government of Turkey — that led to the op-ed, and Flynn was not paid to write it, according to the forms. But Flynn did send Inovo a draft before publication. S.G.R LLC helped submit it, forms say.
Now Flynn’s firm is registering because the nature of the Flynn Intel Group’s work “could be construed to have principally benefitted the Republic of Turkey.”
Registering with the Justice Department is required under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) only when the client is a foreign government, foreign official or an entity that receives financial or other support from a foreign government. FARA requirements are much more strict than domestic lobbying disclosure laws, and include having to register for any services used to influence public policy, including lobbying, public relations and consulting work.
Not registering under FARA is a felony, but enforcement is compliance-based, and firms can evade prosecution simply by belatedly submitting paperwork.
Flynn’s former client denies that there was any payment from Turkey or any other foreign government.
“Inovo has represented, through its counsel, that no part of the fees paid to Flynn Intel Group by Inovo was provided by any foreign government,” disclosure forms say.
Alptekin, who founded Inovo in 2005, is the chairman of the Turkish-American Business Council, which is connected to the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey.
Lawyers for Alptekin say the organization is not an “[agent] of the government of the Republic of Turkey,” but members of the Foreign Economic Relations Board are picked by Turkey’s general assembly and the country’s minister of economy. Through his role, Alptekin helped coordinate a Washington visit for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year.
The Flynn Intel Group had registered in August to represent Inovo BV under the domestic lobbying law, known as the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). S.G.R. LLC also registered with the Senate under the LDA, listing Flynn Intel Group as its client. Both firms reported that they did not receive lobbying fees.
The various disclosures in the Justice Department and the Senate have conflicting accounts of why Flynn Intel Group was hired, and what the firm worked on.
The domestic lobbying disclosure forms, filed to the Senate, say both firms would “advise client on U.S. domestic and foreign policy,” including lobbying on funding bills for the Pentagon and State Department.
While supplemental Justice Department disclosures detail the video project about Gulen, another one says the Flynn Intel Group “understood the engagement to be focused on improving U.S. business organizations’ confidence regarding doing business in Turkey, particularly with respect to the stability of Turkey and its suitability as a venue for investment and commercial activity.”
In the same disclosure, lawyers for Alptekin, the Turkish businessman, said Flynn’s firm had been hired to assist in Inovo’s consulting work.
“At the time Inovo hired Flynn Intel Group, Inovo represented a private sector company in Israel that sought to export natural gas to Turkey, and it was for support of its consulting work for this client that Inovo engaged Flynn Intel Group, specifically to understand the tumultuous political climate at the time between the United States and Turkey,” according to a statement by Arent Fox, representing Alptekin, within the Flynn Intel Group registration.
The work was aimed to help Inovo counsel its client on “business opportunities and investment in Turkey,” it said.
The registration comes a few weeks after Flynn was fired from his White House post for allegedly misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other senior officials about his communications with the Russian ambassador after the election.
Flynn also made contradictory statements to FBI investigators about whether he discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy, according to The Washington Post.