Turkey and Michael Flynn: Five things to know

The Justice Department unsealed charges on Monday against two associates of former national security advisor Michael Flynn, detailing an alleged secret lobbying campaign on behalf of the Turkish government.

The charges, which were handed down Wednesday, were revealed one day before Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in Washington, D.C. for lying to FBI agents about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

The indictment does not name Flynn, but describes a “Person A” who matches Flynn’s description: A co-founder of a consulting group that offered services based on that person's “national security expertise.”

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It also provided new details on a case that first got Flynn, the former Defense Intelligence Agency director who resigned as President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure MORE’s national security advisor after lying about conversations with Russians, on federal investigators’ radar in 2016.

Here are five things to know about the connection between Flynn and Turkey.

The Turkish coup and extradition requests

On a July 2016 night, factions of the Turkish armed forces attempted to overthrow the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Erdogan defeated the coup attempt, but the ramifications have rippled through Ankara and U.S.-Turkish relations since.

Erdogan accused a Muslim cleric named Fethullah Gulen and his followers of orchestrating the attempt to oust him.

Gulen, a legal U.S. resident, has been living in rural Pennsylvania since 1999 under self-imposed exile from Turkey. He and Erdogan used to be allies before Erdogan turned on him.

Gulen denies any responsibility in the coup.

Erdogan first demanded Gulen’s extradition shortly after the coup attempt in 2016, but the Obama administration said the documents Turkey sent over had nothing to do with the coup and that Gulen’s due process rights must be respected.

The Trump administration has also publicly said Gulen is entitled to due process rights.

But reports have surfaced in recent months that the Trump administration is considering his extradition. Most recently, Turkey’s foreign minister said Sunday that Trump told Erdogan he was working on the request when they met at the G-20 summit.

The Flynn op-ed

Scrutiny on Flynn’s ties to Turkey first stemmed from an op-ed he wrote for The Hill on Election Day 2016.

In the op-ed, Flynn defended Erdogan from criticism of his crackdown on dissidents and labeled Gulen a “shady Islamic mullah” who “portrays himself as a moderate, but he is in fact a radical Islamist.”

It was later revealed that his now-defunct Flynn Intel Group had been paid $530,000 by Dutch-based company called Inovo BV, which in turn had ties to the Turkish government.

The bulk of the $530,000 contract was to produce a documentary to boost Turkey’s image, as well as to conduct research on Gulen.

In March 2017, Flynn and his consulting firm retroactively registered as foreign agents working on behalf Turkey.

In a Dec. 2017 legal filing, though, Flynn admitted lying in the March filings to the Justice Department, including by falsely stating that the Flynn Intel Group did not know to what extent the Turkish government was involved in the project and that the op-ed was written on his own initiative.

Flynn’s associates

The charges unsealed Monday were against two Flynn associates: Bijan Kian and Kamil Ekim Alptekin.

Kian, also known by Bijan Rafiekian, co-founded the consulting firm with Flynn and served as its vice chairman, director, secretary and treasurer. He also worked on Trump's national security transition team.

Kian was charged with conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent of the Turkish government. He appeared in court Monday in Alexandria, Va., and was released on a personal recognizance bond.

Alptekin, meanwhile, ran Inovo. He is a Turkish national currently believed to be in Istanbul.

Alptekin was charged with conspiracy, acting as an unregistered foreign agent and four counts of making false statements to the FBI.

The Dec. 12 indictment unsealed Monday alleges that Kian and Alptekin “conspired covertly and unlawfully to influence U.S. politicians and public opinion concerning a Turkish citizen living in the United States whose extradition was then being sought by the Government of Turkey.”

The indictment does not specifically name Gulen. But it describes the Turkish citizen as an “imam, writer and political figure” who “runs a network of schools and charitable organizations,” lives in the United States and has been blamed by Turkey for the 2016 coup attempt — a description that perfectly fits Gulen.

The allegations

The narrative the indictment lays out starts on July 27, 2016. On or about that date, Kian told Alptekin that he and Flynn are “ready to engage on what needs to be done,” according to the document.

By Aug. 10, 2016, the indictment says, Alptekin told Kian that he had a “green light” to discuss the confidentiality, budget and scope of a contract after meetings with two Turkish government ministers.

In September 2016, a contract was drawn up for $600,000 for the Flynn Intel Group to “deliver findings and results including but not limited to making criminal referrals” against Gulen, according to the indictment. 

The indictment alleges Kian and Alptekin hid the covert effort, first branded the “Truth Campaign” and later “Operation Confidence,” by listing Alptekin’s company as the Flynn Intel Group’s client rather than the Turkish government.

On Sept. 19, 2016, Flynn, Kian and Alptekin met with two Turkish government officials in New York City to discuss Gulen, the indictment says. Throughout September and October that year, Kian and others met with a member of Congress, a congressional staffer and a state government official to “depict [Gulen] as a threat who should be returned to Turkey,” the indictment adds.

On Nov. 2, 2016, according to the filing, Alptekin complained to Kian that Flynn’s firm had “not publicized enough negative information” about Gulen. That day, Kian sent Alptekin a draft of the op-ed, telling him that “a promise made is a promise kept.”

Two days before the op-ed ran, Kian emailed Aptekin that “The arrow has left the bow!” and shared another draft.

“This is a very high profile exposure one day before the election,” Kian added.

After the op-ed was published, the Justice Department began investigating, the indictment says.

The connection to Mueller

While federal prosecutors in Virginia began the investigation, special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and allegations of collusion by the Trump campaign, reportedly took over the Turkey investigation in 2017.

At some point, according to reports, Mueller then referred to the case back to prosecutors in Alexandria.

In the Russia case, Flynn pleaded guilty in Dec. 2017 to lying to FBI agents about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation.

In a sentencing memo from Mueller earlier this month that recommended Flynn serve no jail time, Mueller appeared to reference the Turkey investigation.

The memo said Flynn provided “substantial assistance” in several unspecified cases on top of the Russia probe. The heavily redacted memo does not say the Turkey case is one in which Flynn helped, but it was widely believed to be one because it is a case in which Flynn has direct knowledge.

In the memo, Mueller also wrote that Flynn’s op-ed was “valuable to the Republic of Turkey’s efforts to shape public opinion.”