Documents released by lawmakers this week show President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was warned when he retired from the military in 2014 not to take foreign money without “advance approval” by Pentagon authorities.
Flynn, a former US military intelligence chief who was a close adviser to Trump during last year’s campaign, was paid more than $33,000 to attend a Russia Today gala in December 2015, where he sat at a table with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The payment came to light amid a sprawling Congressional and Justice Department probe into Russian interference in the US election, in which investigators are especially focusing on the ties between Moscow and several Trump advisers.
In one document released this week, the Defense Department inspector general’s office confirmed it was investigating whether Flynn failed to obtain prior approval for funds he received from Russian sources while advising Trump when the latter was a presidential candidate.
On Tuesday, Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz said it appeared Flynn — who stood down as a top aide to Trump amid the controversy over his ties to Russia — broke the law by failing to disclose the payments from RT.
Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said there was no sign the retired three-star general had the required permissions to attend the gala, nor that he reported the payment when seeking to renew his security clearance a month later.
“Personally, I see no information or no data to support the notion that General Flynn complied with the law,” Chaffetz said after a briefing on the issue by officials of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which Flynn headed from 2012 to 2014.
“He was supposed to seek permission and receive permission from both the secretary of state and the secretary of the army prior to travelling to Russia to not only accept that payment but to engage in that activity,” Chaffetz told reporters on Tuesday.
Elijah Cummings, the Democratic vice chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said the reporting violations may constitute felony crimes that could bring up to five years imprisonment.
Flynn has denied any wrongdoing, amid reports he is under investigation by both the Defense Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Flynn’s lawyer Robert Kelner said in a statement that Flynn had kept the DIA informed about the Russia trip at the time.
“General Flynn briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency, a component agency of DoD, extensively regarding the RT speaking event trip both before and after the trip, and he answered any questions that were posed by DIA concerning the trip during those briefings.”
Kelner said in March that Flynn is willing to testify in a US counter-intelligence investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the election to help Trump, in exchange for immunity.
Flynn was forced to step down as Trump’s national security adviser less than a month into the job for failing to disclose private conversations he had held with Russia’s US ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December following the election.
After his resignation, he was also shown to have accepted $530,000 to lobby for Turkey during the campaign, without registering as a foreign agent as required by law.
He also accepted $11,250 each from a Russian air transport firm and a Russia-based computer security firm.
Chaffetz said Flynn is now facing possible punishment from the Pentagon, including being forced to give up the payments.
In a parallel development, with concerns mounting that Republicans are stalling the Russia probe, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced that two top former officials — ex-acting attorney general Sally Yates and former director of national intelligence James Clapper — will testify on May 8.
Both were deeply involved in the investigation into Russian interference during the second half of last year under former president Barack Obama.