Planning and Executing Kidnaps

Planning and Executing Kidnaps


Prosecutors Accuse Turkey of Covert Campaign to Pressure U.S. to Hand Over Cleric

By Dion Nissenbaum and Aruna Viswanatha on Wall Street Journal

Two associates of Michael Flynn are accused of acting as agents for Ankara; indictment also charges conspiracy, false statements.

Federal prosecutors accused the Turkish government of running a covert 2016 lobbying campaign in Washington aimed at pressuring the U.S. to hand over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s American-based nemesis, cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The disclosure came in an indictment unsealed Monday that accused two business associates of President Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, of acting as agents of a foreign government, conspiracy and making false statements, in what prosecutors said was an effort to cover up their work for Turkey.

The document alleges that Mr. Flynn and his business partners worked with two top Turkish ministers to advance the project, and suggests that Mr. Erdogan might have been informed about the covert campaign. The court document suggests that for months during the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump’s top national security adviser was engaged in a deceptive effort on behalf of a foreign power.

Prosecutors appeared to depict Berat Albayrak, Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law who serves as Turkey’s finance and treasury minister, and Mevlut Cavusoglu, the foreign minister, as overseeing efforts to persuade the U.S. to extradite Mr. Gulen, the 77-year-old cleric.

The indictment, returned in secret last week, didn’t name Messrs. Albayrak and Cavusoglu, but details in the document, combined with previous Wall Street Journal reporting, make it possible to identify them. Mr. Erdogan accuses Mr. Gulen of orchestrating a botched 2016 military coup against him, which Mr. Gulen denies.

At the heart of the influence campaign were Bijan Kian and Ekim Alptekin, Mr. Flynn’s onetime business associates, whom prosecutors accused of running a three-month, $530,000 effort to discredit Mr. Gulen.

Mr. Kian made an initial appearance in court Monday morning, but prosecutors said they weren’t seeking his immediate detention. He is scheduled to face arraignment on Tuesday.

Mr. Alptekin isn’t in U.S. custody and is believed to be in Turkey. It is unclear if he will return to face the charges.

Molly Toomey, a spokeswoman for Mr. Alptekin, said the businessman wasn’t working for the Turkish government in connection with the project, and she suggested that others were now changing their stories.

“I understand why some people would be inclined to take the other accounts at face value, but I think people should at least entertain the possibility that the revised versions of what happened are not the reality,” she said. “Ekim has said that it would be impossible for them to prove that it was the government paying for this, because it wasn’t.”

Officials with the Turkish Embassy in Washington, the Turkish presidency, Turkish Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Finance didn’t respond to requests to comment. A lawyer for Mr. Flynn, who faces sentencing in a related case Tuesday, couldn’t be reached to comment.

Monday’s indictment outlines a campaign to discredit Mr. Gulen that began in July 2016, a few weeks after the failed coup in Turkey, when Mr. Alptekin allegedly conferred with either Mr. Albayrak or Mr. Cavusoglu about working with the Flynn Intel Group.

At the time, Mr. Flynn was a high-profile adviser in the Trump campaign. In early August, prosecutors allege, Mr. Alptekin emailed Mr. Kian and Mr. Flynn that he had a “green light” from the two Turkish ministers to discuss funding the project. A few weeks later, Mr. Alptekin told Mr. Kian via Skype that he might be meeting the “boss” of one of the ministers, an apparent reference to Mr. Erdogan.

Mr. Alptekin also said he was trying to arrange a meeting between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Erdogan in New York in September 2016, when the Turkish president was set to attend the United Nations General Assembly. There isn’t any indication that Mr. Erdogan was briefed on the project at that time or that he met with Mr. Flynn.

Turkish officials told the Journal last year that the two Turkish ministers did meet with Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kian in New York, but declined to discuss the details.

At that meeting, the Journal reported, the men discussed ways to get Mr. Gulen back to Turkey, including the possibility of spiriting him out of the country illegally. Mr. Flynn has denied discussing any illegal attempt to get Mr. Gulen back to Turkey.

Mr. Flynn’s biggest contribution to the project was an op-ed that appeared on Election Day in The Hill newspaper that denounced Mr. Gulen and said the U.S. shouldn’t provide him with “safe haven.” The idea, the indictment suggests, was floated by Mr. Alptekin on behalf of the Turkish government. The bulk of his company’s work for Turkey appeared to center on an unfinished documentary that sought to discredit Mr. Gulen.

Mr. Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday following a guilty plea for lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about talks with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. In a pre-sentencing filing, prosecutors said Mr. Flynn had cooperated extensively with prosecutors, including on a criminal investigation that appears to refer to the Turkish lobbying inquiry.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has recommended Mr. Flynn face no jail time. Monday’s case wasn’t brought by the special counsel, but is related to his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any possible cooperation between Moscow and Trump associates.

As part of his plea agreement, Mr. Flynn admitted he filed misleading information with the Justice Department about the Turkish work, including saying that he didn’t know the extent to which the Turkish government—which human-rights groups increasingly characterize as authoritarian—was involved in the effort.

There is no direct indication from prosecutors as to whether the money for the project came from the Turkish government. But according to the indictment, Mr. Alptekin used his Netherlands-based company, Inovo BV, to conceal Turkish officials’ involvement in the project.

“As part of this concealment, the defendants used Alptekin’s company…rather than the Government of Turkey, to serve as [the] ‘client,’” the indictment said.

Inovo paid for Mr. Flynn’s work, but Turkish government officials approved the budget and received regular updates, the indictment said.

As part of its contract, Flynn Intel Group was expected to “deliver findings and results” that included “making criminal referrals” against Mr. Gulen, the indictment said. The message focused in part on comparing Mr. Gulen to Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, the late cleric who overthrew Tehran’s government in 1979, the document said.

Turkey sought Mr. Gulen’s arrest days after the 2016 coup, which took place in mid-July, according to the indictment, and submitted a formal request to the U.S. for his extradition. The Justice Department said the evidence didn’t meet the legal standard for extradition, and the lobbying campaign began by the end of July, the indictment said.

Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Gulen were once allies in Turkey, where they used their influence to consolidate power. In 2014, they had a falling out over leaks of phone conversations with Turkish political leaders that threatened to bring down Mr. Erdogan and his allies.

Mr. Erdogan accused Mr. Gulen and his followers of leaking the calls, and he launched a broad crackdown on Mr. Gulen’s followers in government. Mr. Erdogan has accused Mr. Gulen of trying to overthrow the government and branded him a terrorist.

After the coup, Mr. Erdogan accelerated his pursuit of Mr. Gulen’s followers, closing newspapers and shutting businesses run by people with tangential links to the cleric. Mr. Gulen has lived in the U.S. for years.

Last week, Mr. Cavusoglu said that Mr. Trump had indicated he continues to look at the prospect of returning Mr. Gulen to Turkey. Other U.S. officials say that appears unlikely to happen anytime soon.

—David Gauthier-Villars in Istanbul contributed to this article.

Corrections & Amplifications
Messrs. Kian and Flynn ran a consulting firm together and worked with Mr. Alptekin on a campaign to discredit an exiled Turkish cleric living in the U.S. An earlier version of this article said Messrs. Kian, Alptekin and Flynn ran the consulting firm together. (Dec. 17, 2018)

Flynn’s Turkish Delight: How, Why, and When He Reversed His Policy Positions on Turkey

By Artin Afkhami on Just Security

Many commentators anticipate that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will likely indict retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn in part for the former National Security Advisor’s previously undisclosed work as a foreign agent of Turkey. Mueller’s team has reportedly obtained enough evidence to indict Flynn and his son, according to an NBC News report earlier this month.

There is no way to tell, based on current reporting, whether that body of indictable evidence, includes the two alleged meetings in Sept. and Dec. 2016 where Flynn may have discussed a plot to forcibly remove U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, or initiate legal proceedings against him, in exchange for $15 million. But in considering Flynn’s case, it is important to keep track of how he changed from a relatively hardline position against the government of Turkey to public positions in favor of Ankara. Important questions for legal liability and moral responsibility include whether Flynn’s conflict of interest and efforts in favor of Turkey continued past the election and into his time in office.

Engaging in pro-Turkish government dealings was a major change in Flynn’s position on Turkey. In July 2016, Flynn gave a speech supporting the military coup against the Turkish government, specifically citing the country’s “move toward Islamism” under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the military’s secular orientation. And previously, while serving as DIA Director under the Obama administration, Flynn says he alerted White House officials to Turkey’s indifference toward ISIS’ growth in Syria.

What explains why Flynn changed his position on Turkey and why did he persist in pro-Turkish positions after his firm’s contract to work on behalf of the Turkish government purportedly ended?

I. Flynn’s initial anti-Erdoğan, anti-Islamist public positions, and his later The Hill Op-Ed Reversal

1. War Against “Cunning Radical Islamists” Tweet (Nov. 16, 2015)

Flynn has publicly spoken against what he views as a global threat of radical Islamism, which, according to his view, also implicated Erdoğan’s pro-Islamist government at one point. He tweeted in November 2015:

2. Flynn Expresses Concerns on Turkey’s Indifference to ISIS to Sy Hersh (January 2016)

Flynn seemed to view Turkey’s pro-Islamist attitudes as leading to the country’s indifference to ISIS growing next door. In January 2016, he told Seymour Hersh in a New Yorker interview:
“If the American public saw the intelligence we were producing daily, at the most sensitive level, they would go ballistic…We understood Isis’s long-term strategy and its campaign plans, and we also discussed the fact that Turkey was looking the other way when it came to the growth of the Islamic State inside Syria.”
He added that the Obama administration gave “enormous pushback” with respect to the DIA’s reporting on ISIS’ growth in Syria, including Turkey’s alleged indifference: “I felt that they did not want to hear the truth.”

3. Flynn Tweets that Fear of Muslims is Rational (Feb. 27. 2016)

In line with his prior statements, Flynn tweeted in Feb. 2016 that fear of Muslims was “rational:”

4. Flynn Lauds the Anti-Erdogan Coup at ACT! For America Speech (July 15, 2016)

On July 15, 2016, Flynn gave a speech at the Cleveland meeting of ACT! For America. The organization is an advocacy group that opposes what it calls “Islamofascism,” which Brigitte Gabriel, the group’s founder, believes comes from “one source: The Koran.” Flynn began his remarks by expressing support for the military-led coup d’état in Turkey:
“[The Turkish military] has been just excised for many years by what, what really became a secular country, meaning a sort of, regular sort of nation-state, and then began to move toward Islamism. This is Turkey under Erdoğan, who is actually very close to President Obama.

So, I’m going to be very fascinated to see what happens, because if they, the military succeeds, then one of the things that came out of the military tonight, they’re about plus eight hours from here, so it’s probably about I don’t know, three-four o’clock in the morning there. One of the things the military immediately said is: “We recognize our responsibilities with NATO, we recognize our responsibilities with the United Nations, we want to make sure that the world knows, we are, we want to be seen as a secular nation. This is the military.


So, yeah, I think that is worth clapping for.
5. New York Times Notes Flynn and Trump Share Islamophobic Outlook and Flynn’s Influence on the Campaign (November 2016)

The New York Times’ post-election profile of Flynn noted his anti-Islamist credentials throughout the campaign:
[Trump and Flynn] have both at times crossed the line into outright Islamophobia.

[Trump and Flynn] both exhibit a loose relationship with facts: General Flynn, for instance, has said that Shariah, or Islamic law, is spreading in the United States (it is not).

As an adviser, General Flynn has already proved to be a powerful influence on Mr. Trump, convincing the president-elect that the United States is in a “world war” with Islamist militants and must work with any willing allies in the fight, including President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
6. Flynn Supports Erdoğan Government’s Goals in the Hill Op-Ed (Nov. 08, 2016)

On Election Day 2016, The Hill published an op-ed by Flynn titled, “Our ally Turkey is in crisis and needs our support.” The op-ed criticized the Obama administration for not being friendly enough toward Erdoğan’s government and portrayed Gülen as a cleric who “portrays himself as a moderate, but he is in fact a radical Islamist.”

It compares Gülen to the founders of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and labels him Turkey’s equivalent of Bin Laden:
“To professionals in the intelligence community, the stamp of terror is all over Mullah Gülen’s statements in the tradition of Qutb and al Bana. Gülen’s vast global network has all the right markings to fit the description of a dangerous sleeper terror network. From Turkey’s point of view, Washington is harboring Turkey’s Osama bin Laden.
It also ties Gülen to the Clinton Foundation:
[F]unding seems to be no problem for Gülen’s network. Hired attorneys work to keep the lucrative government source of income for Gülen and his network going. Influential charities such as Cosmos Foundation continue their support for Gülen’s charter schools.

Incidentally, Cosmos Foundation is a major donor to Clinton Foundation. No wonder Bill Clinton calls Mullah Gülen “his friend.”
And concludes:
“We need to adjust our foreign policy to recognize Turkey as a priority. We need to see the world from Turkey’s perspective. What would we have done if right after 9/11 we heard the news that Osama bin Laden lives in a nice villa at a Turkish resort while running 160 charter schools funded by the Turkish taxpayers?

The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gülen, who is running a scam. We should not provide him safe haven. In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.”
When Flynn’s op-ed came out, Ekim Alptekin, the Turkish businessman who hired Flynn’s firm, told the New York Times: “This is not a guy who would be influenced by a contract. He wrote what he believes.”

Al Monitor’s Turkey columnist Mustafa Akyol also told the paper of the warm reception Flynn’s op-ed had inside the government of Turkey: “You would expect to see [an Islamophobia] concern here, but quite the contrary: Flynn is quite a respected figure now in government circles, just because he wrote that Gülen should be extradited to Turkey.

He added: “[Flynn’s op-ed] was greeted with great happiness here,” adding that Erdoğan supporters thought: “Finally, somebody in America who understands us.

In late Nov., Alptekin denied that either Erdoğan or the Turkish government paid for Flynn’s op-ed, telling The Independent that the idea was “preposterous,” noting that the op-ed also criticized the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that Erdogan had sometimes supported. He contended that Inovo’s contract with Flynn Intel Group was “not about representing the position of the Turkish government,” and Alptekin said that he was not affiliated with the Turkish government.

Flynn has a strong anti-Islamist streak, and yet he went from criticizing Turkey’s relatively pro-Islamist government and supporting the coup against Erdoğan, to publicly advocating for Gülen’s removal to face justice for the coup in Turkey. What changed between these two events—the coup and the op-ed—to cause Flynn to switch positions on Turkey?

II. A likely motive: lucrative lobbying contracts, and how Flynn’s private business activities may have affected his public positions

1. Flynn Intel Group Signs Contract with Inovo BV (Aug. 2016)

In early August 2016, Flynn Intel Group was approached by Alptekin, the chairman of the Turkish-American Business Council, a Turkish economic relations board run by an appointee of Prs Erdoğan. Alptekin proposed that Flynn work on a project repairing Turkey’s image in the United States with Alptekin’s Netherlands-based firm Inovo BV—work to be performed by Flynn’s firm over 90 days in exchange for $600,000. Flynn agreed.

Though Flynn later conceded in his belated filing that the Inovo work “could be construed to have principally helped the Republic of Turkey,” Flynn opted not to file this work with the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) database until strongly encouraged to do so by the Justice Department. FARA requires lobbyists whose work directly or indirectly benefits a foreign government to file as agents of a foreign power. The Flynn firm would likely assert that because the Inovo work benefitted a business and not a foreign nation, the firm could instead file with Congress under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, and it did so in Sept. 2016.

2. Flynn Meets with Turkish Ministers Alongside Woolsey in New York (Sept. 21, 2016)

On September 21, Flynn met in New York with the Turkish foreign minister and energy ministers (the latter is also Erdoğan’s son-in-law), alongside former CIA Director James Woolsey and a former FBI agent, according to Woolsey’s account of the deliberations. Woolsey later told the Wall Street Journal that the meeting discussed a plot to remove Turkish cleric Gülen from the United States and take him to Turkey.

According to a report by the Daily Caller, one month after the Sept. 2016 meeting between Flynn and Turkish ministers in New York, Flynn attended an event with Halil Mutlu, former director of the Turken Foundation, a U.S. charity focused on Turkish issues, and President Erdoğan’s cousin. (Readers should note: The Daily Caller generally has a far-right ideological lens, and has been criticized for having a white nationalist problem in recent months.)

3. Flynn Intel Group Lobbies Congress on Inovo’s Behalf (Sept.–Oct. 2016)

After signing the contract with Inovo BV, Flynn’s Intel Group began lobbying Congress on Inovo’s behalf, though Flynn himself did not participate in the lobbying. Flynn’s Sept. 2016 Lobbying Disclosure Act forms reveal that Robert Kelley, Flynn’s lawyer and a former Chief Counsel to a House subcommittee, managed the lobbying portion of the Inovo contract.

According to the FARA registration, in Oct. 2016, VP Bijan R. Kian met twice with Miles Taylor, National Security Advisor to the House Homeland Security Committee, to discuss Flynn Intel Group’s work for Inovo and research related to Turkey and Gülen. According to a Daily Caller source, at the second meeting, Kian and Inovo representatives discussed Gülen with Taylor, and what they called his “shady” Gülen Movement Schools. The source added that House committee staff were not receptive to Kian’s approach, and that Flynn was not present for the meeting. Beyond this Congressional outreach, the FARA registration also notes that Flynn’s firm oversaw a PR firm SGR LLC’s outreach to an Arkansas state government official with respect to the Inovo work.

The AP reported that as part of the Taylor meeting, Flynn Intel Group staff suggested that Congress hold hearings about Gülen.

At the time of the filing, Alptekin told the AP: “I disagree with the filing…It would be different if I was working for the government of Turkey, but I am not taking directions from anyone in the government.” He said the filings were a response to “political pressure.”

4. Flynn Group’s VP Meets Alptekin Prior to The Hill Op-Ed (Nov. 2, 2016)

According to an in-depth profile of Flynn by The New Yorker’s Nicholas Schmidle, on November 2, 2016, Alptekin privately met Flynn Intel Group VP Bijan R. Kian and other corporate officers at the firm’s offices in Alexandria, Va. Alptekin, believing that Trump was likely to lose the election, emphasized that, “We have to generate something to show Turkey how successful we can be…What success can we show them now?”

As Schmidle points out, Flynn’s op-ed in The Hill was published a week later.

5. Flynn and Alptekin Statement to the Wall Street Journal (Nov. 17, 2016)

Flynn told the Wall Street Journal in a Nov. 17 statement that he would end his relationship with his firm if offered to serve in the Trump administration. He said: “If I return to government service, my relationship with my company will be severed in accordance with the policy announced by President-elect Trump.” Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin tells the Journal that he hired Flynn to advise him on the U.S.-Turkish security relationship, and more generally, to improve U.S.-Turkish relations.

6. WH Cabinet Secretary’s Post-Election Investigation into Flynn’s The Hill Op-Ed (Nov. 19, 2016)

On Nov. 19, the day after Trump appointed Flynn as his National Security Adviser, lawyer Bill McGinley, who later became White House Cabinet Secretary, called Kian and others to investigate the Flynn op-ed. A source told The New Yorker:
Some people seemed skeptical as to whether Flynn had really woken up the day before the election and felt compelled to write an op-ed defending Erdoğan…McGinley wanted to know if Turkish government dollars touched that op-ed.
Kian reportedly told McGinley that Flynn wrote the op-ed entirely on his own, and that it was unrelated to his work for Alptekin.

However, the Flynn group’s FARA filing noted that in October and early November, Flynn developed the op-ed based partly based on research done for the Inovo work, and that a draft was shared with Inovo before publication. Further, SGR LLC, a public relations firm Flynn Intel Group hired as part of the Inovo contract, helped Flynn place The Hill op-ed.

7. Second Meeting with Turkish officials on Alleged Gülen Plot in New York (Dec. 2016)

Mueller’s investigation is reportedly looking into whether, during a second alleged meeting between Flynn and Turkish government representatives in mid-Dec. 2016, participants discussed a plan for Flynn and Flynn Jr. to remove Gülen in exchange for up to $15 million dollars. It is also reportedly looking into whether they discussed a separate plan to free Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab. The Wall Street Journal reported that the alleged meeting took place in mid-December at the 21 Club in New York, and the discussion considered forcibly removing Mr. Gülen from the U.S. on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali.

If the December meeting were to be confirmed, even if the more sensational allegations about the content of the meeting were not established, it could contradict Flynn Intel Group’s filing statements, which state that the Flynn firm’s contract with Inovo terminated in November 2016, and that is when Flynn’s paid work that benefited the Turkish government ended. Intentional false statements on a FARA form are a felony.

8. Flynn Tells Susan Rice “We’ll Take it From Here” on Raqqa Campaign (Jan. 10, 2017)

On Jan. 10, outgoing National Security Adviser Susan Rice presented Flynn a plan to imminently take over the Islamic State’s capital in Raqqa, Syria, according to the Washington Post. The plan involved arming Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Syria, and Obama administration officials believed they had little time left to move forward with the operation.

The Post noted that Turkey’s Erdoğan had resisted their overtures to fight the Islamic State more robustly, leading in part to the U.S. plan to rely on the Kurds:
In contrast to Obama, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not see the Islamic State as his country’s No. 1 threat. In private meetings with senior U.S. officials in 2014, Erdoğan said the Kurds were his top concern and that removing Assad ranked second, according to U.S. and Turkish officials.
Erdoğan has long been upset by the U.S. support for Syrian Kurds, which he considers part of a terrorist group that threatens Turkey’s national security.

According to the Post, Flynn responded to Rice:
Don’t approve it… We’ll make the decision.
McClatchy reported that it is not known if Flynn consulted other administration officials before telling Rice to hold off on the decision, or whether Flynn’s decision was approved by a higher-ranking official such as Secretary of Defense nominee James Mattis.

9. Raqqa Plan is “Dead on Arrival” When Presented to Trump Officials (Jan. 17, 2017)

When the plan was turned over to the Trump administration on Jan. 17, per Flynn’s request, the Post reported that it “was dead on arrival.” According to McClatchy, “Some members of Congress, in private conversations, have even used the word ‘treason’ to describe Flynn’s intervention” with Rice. And while there is no reporting whether Flynn advised Trump to hold off on the Raqqa assault, media outlets have noted that Trump only approved the plan weeks after he had fired Flynn.

10. Flynn, Turkish FM Meet over Breakfast at Trump Hotel (Jan. 18, 2017)

McClatchy reported that Flynn met Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu over breakfast on Jan. 18 to discuss U.S.-Turkish interests. It was later reported by Business Insider that Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was also present at the closed-door meeting at the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. Pro-government Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah reported at the time of the breakfast that the meeting was “a first direct reachout between the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan administration and the incoming Donald Trump administration.” An aide to Cavusoglu told the paper that that “Çavuşoğlu was the only foreign leader at the breakfast and the topics on the U.S.-Turkish agenda were discussed by the attendees.” Cavusoglu would later attend Trump’s inauguration.

11. President Trump’s Call with Erdogan (Feb. 7, 2017)

On Trump’s first call with Erdoğan, the pair agreed to engage in joint action against ISIS positions in Syria, according to two sources in Erdoğan’s office, Reuters reported. They added that Erdoğan urged Trump not to support the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. Al-Monitor reported based that a senior Turkish official said that Erdoğan “drew attention to the close ties between the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdistan Workers Party,” the Turkish-based Kurdish group. Likewise, Reuters added that CIA Director Mike Pompeo would be in Turkey on Feb. 9 to discuss security issues with Turkish officials.

* * *

Considering the nature of Flynn’s pre- and alleged post-election work on behalf of the Turkish government, it appears that the money paid to him as part of the Inovo contract may have played a decisive role in changing his position on Turkey. The extent of his reversal would have negatively implicated U.S. national security interests if it figured into his response to Susan Rice on the operation to retake Raqqa, the Islamic State’s so-called capital. But why would Flynn remain motivated by pecuniary interests once he was named to be national security advisor and then served in the administration? Perhaps it was not a financial interest at that point. Perhaps it was a case of a person’s judgment being clouded, convincing themselves that they believe in a new policy outlook to reduce the cognitive dissonance that would otherwise persist. Another explanation is a more illicit one. If Flynn and his son were still interested in mid-December in being personally paid $15 million by Turkey, there’s reason to think Flynn would not have dropped such interests going forward on other policies favorable to Turkey. The allegations reported in the Wall Street Journal and NBC News involving the mid-December meeting certainly raise this specter. The available information in the public domain does not provide a sufficient basis to reach any firm conclusion. It will be up to Mueller’s investigation and others to tell.

Article posted at

Mueller probes Flynn role in plot to deliver cleric to Turkey

By Miranda Green on CNN

Former White House national security adviser Mike Flynn and his son are alleged to have been offered as much as $15 million to forcibly remove from the US a Muslim cleric wanted by Turkey, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Journal reported the FBI questioned at least four people in regards to a mid-December meeting in New York at the "21" Club. Discussions between Flynn and Turkish representatives supposedly took place there, according to the Journal.

The Journal said the people who described the alleged proposal didn't attend the December meeting and didn't have direct knowledge of the details. There's no indication that money changed hands or that an agreement was made.

The discussions allegedly included how to transport Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim leader who Erdogan has accused of being behind a failed military coup to overthrow him, on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali.

Flynn's lawyers fully denied the Journal story in a written statement later Friday.

"Out of respect for the process of the various investigations regarding the 2016 campaign, we have intentionally avoided responding to every rumor or allegation raised in the media," Robert Kelner, Stephen Anthony and Brian Smith said in the statement. "But today's news cycle has brought allegations about General Flynn, ranging from kidnapping to bribery, that are so outrageous and prejudicial that we are making an exception to our usual rule: they are false."

The Journal reported that an attorney for Flynn's son declined to comment on the story.

CNN reported earlier this week that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators are examining Flynn's alleged participation in discussions about the idea of removing the cleric who has been living in exile in Pennsylvania. In the past, a spokesman for Flynn has denied that such discussions occurred.

CNN also reported that Flynn has expressed concern about the potential legal exposure of his son, Michael Flynn Jr., who, like his father, is under scrutiny by Mueller, multiple sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey told CNN in March about an earlier meeting in September 2016 where Flynn also met with representatives of the Turkish government and discussed potential ways to send a foe of Turkey's president back to face charges in that country.

Woolsey claims that those present discussed sending Gulen back to Turkey to face charges -- possibly outside the legal US extradition system.

"What I saw and heard was sort of the end of the conversation -- it's not entirely clear what transpired because of that," Woolsey said on "CNN Tonight" with Don Lemon. "But it looks as if there was at least some strong suggestion by one or more of the Americans present at the meeting that we would be able, the United States would be able, through them, to be able to get hold of Gulen, the rival for Turkey's political situation."

At the time, a spokesman for Flynn denied the allegation.
"The claim made by Mr. Woolsey that General Flynn, or anyone else in attendance, discussed physical removal of Mr. Gulen from the United States during a meeting with Turkish officials in New York is false," Flynn spokesman Price Floyd said in a statement at the time. "No such discussion occurred. Nor did Mr. Woolsey ever inform General Flynn that he had any concerns whatsoever regarding the meeting either before he chose to attend or afterwards."

If proven, the alleged plan to kidnap the cleric with the aid of foreign money directly violates US criminal code and could result in up to a 20-year sentence for the Flynns, according to Michael Zeldin, a CNN legal analyst.

"Under this statute, both domestic kidnapping in violation of US law, and if it was a crime in Turkish law, both would be specific unlawful activities, so anyone who engages in the effort to bring money into the US for the purpose of kidnapping another violates the statute. That's a 20-year felony," Zeldin said.

If the cleric were to die once in Turkish hands, that could mean a life sentence for the pair, Zeldin said.

"This probably has nothing to do with the Trumps, but this is a very serious crime," he said. "Theoretically, if they did this international kidnapping and the Turkish government killed this guy, that could be a life sentence for the Flynns. You don't really want to be involved in a scheme like this, no matter how broke you might be."
The Mueller investigation into the Flynns is part of an overall probe into the Trump campaign's involvement with Russia.

Flynn is also under legal scrutiny by Mueller's team for undisclosed lobbying that he did during the presidential campaign on behalf of the Turkish government, according to sources familiar with the matter. It's against the law to lobby in the United States on behalf of a foreign government without informing the Justice Department.

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Mueller Probing Alleged Flynn Plan To Deliver Cleric To Turkey

By Doina Chiacu on Huffington Post

The alleged plan emerged during Mueller’s wider investigation of possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether U.S. President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was involved in an alleged plan to seize a Muslim cleric and deliver him to Turkey in exchange for millions of dollars, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Under the plan, Flynn, who was fired by Trump after just 24 days in the job, and his son, Michael Flynn Jr, were to receive up to $15 million for forcibly removing Fethullah Gulen from his U.S. home and delivering him to the Turkish government, people familiar with the investigation told the Journal.

The alleged plan emerged during Mueller’s wider investigation of possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any collusion by the Trump campaign.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses Gulen of instigating a failed coup in July 2016 and wants him extradited to Turkey to face trial. Gulen has denied any role in the coup.

A spokesman for Mueller’s team declined to comment on the report on Friday.

Flynn is a central figure in Mueller’s investigation because of conversations he had with then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak last year and because he waited until March to retroactively register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for the work he did for a Turkish businessman.

The Journal reported that FBI agents asked at least four people about a December meeting in New York where Flynn and Turkish government representatives discussed removing Gulen, according to people with knowledge of the FBI’s inquiries.

The December meeting about Gulen was also reported Friday by NBC, which cited people familiar with the probe. The group also discussed how to set free a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab. Zarrab is in prison in the United States on federal charges that he helped Iran skirt U.S. sanctions, NBC said.

A Reuters report on Oct. 26 said one of Flynn’s business associates, former CIA Director James Woolsey, pitched a $10 million contract to two Turkish businessmen to help discredit Gulen while Woolsey was an adviser to Trump’s election campaign.

Woolsey was a member of Flynn’s firm, the Flynn Intel Group, according to a Justice Department filing by the firm and an archive of the company’s website.

Mueller’s team has also interviewed White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, the highest-level Trump aide known to have spoken with investigators, CNN reported on Thursday.

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Mueller Probes Flynn’s Role in Alleged Plan to Deliver Cleric to Turkey

By James V. Grimaldi, Shane Harris and Aruna Viswanatha on Wall Street Journal

Under alleged plan, ex-Trump adviser and his son were to be paid millions to forcibly remove Fethullah Gulen from U.S. and deliver him to Turkish custody.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating former White House national security adviser Mike Flynn’s alleged role in a plan to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric living in the U.S. and deliver him to Turkey in return for millions of dollars, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Under the alleged proposal, Mr. Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million for delivering Fethullah Gulen to the Turkish government, according to people with knowledge of discussions Mr....

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Mueller Said to Investigate Flynn's Ties to Turkey

By Kevin Cirilli on Bloomberg

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is said to be investigating an alleged plan for White House National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and his son that would've paid them $15 million to deliver a Muslim cleric from the U.S. to the Turkish government. 

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Exclusive: While advising Trump in 2016, ex-CIA chief proposed plan to discredit Turkish cleric

By Nathan Lane on Reuters

Former CIA director James Woolsey pitched a $10 million contract to two Turkish businessmen to help discredit a controversial U.S.-based cleric while Woolsey was an adviser to Donald Trump’s election campaign, three people familiar with the proposal said.

Former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency James Woolsey takes part in a panel discussion on Sharia law at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington February 12, 2011.
Just eight days after formally joining Trump’s campaign as an adviser on national security issues, Woolsey met on Sept. 20, 2016 with businessmen Ekim Alptekin and Sezgin Baran Korkmaz over lunch at the Peninsula Hotel in New York, they said.

Woolsey and his wife, Nancye Miller, proposed a lobbying and public relations campaign targeting Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who lives in Pennsylvania.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses Gulen of instigating a failed coup in July 2016 and wants him extradited to Turkey to face trial. Gulen has denied any role in the coup.

In an email memo seen by Reuters, Woolsey and Miller sketched a plan to “draw attention to the cleric’s possible role in the coup attempt” and encourage an official investigation into his activities.

Alptekin, an ally of Erdogan, had already agreed through one of his companies to a $600,000 contract with the consulting firm of Michael Flynn to research Gulen. Flynn was also a Trump campaign adviser and later became his national security adviser before being fired in February.

Woolsey was a member of Flynn’s firm, the Flynn Intel Group, according to a Justice Department filing by the firm and an archive of the company’s website, although a spokesman for Woolsey disputed that characterization, saying he was an unpaid adviser and his affiliation was “loosely defined.”

At the Sept. 20 meeting, Miller said she and Woolsey were in a better position than Flynn to influence decision-makers about Gulen’s alleged role in the coup, according to Alptekin and two other people familiar with the discussion.

Bidding for a lobbying or consulting contract with a foreign company or government is not illegal, and Woolsey and Miller did not win the contract in any event.

But the previously undisclosed meeting shows for the first time that two Trump aides were competing with each other to win the lucrative business deal with Alptekin. The deal with Flynn is now being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his wider probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russians who tried to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment.

Jonathan Franks, a spokesman for Woolsey and Miller, said his clients were not under investigation.

Flynn is a central figure in Mueller’s investigation because of conversations he had with then-Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak last year and because he waited until March to retroactively register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for the work he did for Alptekin.

In that filing, Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, said the work done for Alptekin’s company “could be construed to have principally benefited the republic of Turkey.”

Flynn was fired as national security adviser in February after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the extent of his conversations with Kislyak.

Franks described the Sept. 20 meeting as “unremarkable” and said Miller could not locate the email memo or remember writing it.

He also said Woolsey had pursued with Turkish interests an “economic development proposal in the wake of the coup that centered around reassuring folks that Turkey was a safe place to do business” but that the project’s focus was not on Gulen.

Former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency James Woolsey speaks during a panel discussion at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2011.
Alptekin said Woolsey and Miller pursued his business at the Sept. 20 meeting, pitching the project to target Gulen, but he decided to stick to his contract with Flynn’s firm.

Kelner declined to comment for this story.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.


The disclosure in March of Flynn’s contract to discredit Gulen sparked intense media scrutiny of people who had worked with Flynn, including Woolsey.

Shortly after, Woolsey alleged in media interviews that Flynn and others had, at a Sept. 19, 2016 meeting in New York, discussed with Turkey’s foreign and energy ministers the idea of covertly spiriting Gulen out of the United States and to Turkey.

Flynn has denied through a spokesman ever discussing such a plan. Alptekin also denied it was ever discussed and said Woolsey’s claim was “all the more astounding” because he had sought Alptekin’s business at a meeting the following day.

“His story is fiction,” Alptekin told Reuters.

Franks said Woolsey stands by his account of the meeting.

Woolsey first proposed the $10 million project to Korkmaz, the second Turkish businessman, at a meeting in California in August 2016. The proposal was outlined in an email sent from Miller to Woolsey on Aug. 18, printed out and shown by Woolsey to Korkmaz, who then forwarded it on to Alptekin.

Korkmaz, who had known Woolsey for some years, invited Woolsey to the meeting, according to two people familiar with the meeting. Korkmaz told Woolsey that he was looking for someone who could handle a lobbying and public relations project related to Gulen.

Korkmaz and Alptekin have no business ties but knew each other through a U.S-Turkey trade group, according to two people with knowledge of their relationship. Anil Leylek, a spokeswoman for Korkmaz’s company, declined to comment.

Franks confirmed the August meeting but described it as “brief” and “not a pitch.”

Woolsey and Miller’s proposal included getting Washington insiders like then-Senator Jeff Sessions, who is now Trump’s attorney general, to co-author articles on the situation in Turkey, engaging with influential lawmakers such as Republican Senator Bob Corker, and getting Woolsey on Fox News and CNN, the memo said.

“The cost of this engagement will be $10,000,000,” it said.

Woolsey, who led the CIA for two years under former President Bill Clinton, joined the Trump campaign in September. He was on the transition team after Trump’s election victory in November but he stepped down in January.

Franks said Woolsey was an unpaid adviser to the campaign, had no obligation to report any efforts to pursue work for Turkish interests, and was now being smeared.

“With growing speculation that indictments could be handed down soon, it’s not a surprise that others are attempting to accomplish in the press what they cannot in the grand jury room,” Franks added.

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WSJ Exclusive: Ex-CIA Head Woolsey on Flynn, Covert Plan


Ex-CIA Director: Mike Flynn and Turkish Officials Discussed Removal of Erdogan Foe From U.S.

By James V. Grimaldi, Dion Nissenbaum and Margaret Coker on The Wall Street Journal

Mike Flynn met with top Turkish government ministers and discussed removing a Muslim cleric from the U.S. and, according to former CIA Director James Woolsey, planned to “whisk this guy away” in the dead of night. Here’s what happened, and the timeline.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, while serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign, met with top Turkish government ministers and discussed removing a Muslim cleric from the U.S. and taking him to Turkey, according to former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey, who attended, and others who were briefed on the meeting.

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Woolsey: Flynn discussed sending Erdogan foe back to Turkey

By Leigh Munsil on CNN

Former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey told CNN Friday that former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn met with representatives of the Turkish government in 2016 and discussed potential ways to send a foe of Turkey's president back to face charges in that country,

As a representative of his consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, Flynn met with senior representatives of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government in September 2016, Woolsey said. Woolsey was a Trump campaign adviser at the time and attended the meeting, but said he arrived after it was already well underway.

Woolsey claims that those present discussed sending Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim leader who Erdogan has accused of being behind a failed military coup to overthrow him, back to Turkey to face charges -- possibly outside the legal US extradition system.

"What I saw and heard was sort of the end of the conversation -- it's not entirely clear what transpired because of that," Woolsey said on "CNN Tonight" with Don Lemon. "But it looks as if there was at least some strong suggestion by one or more of the Americans present at the meeting that we would be able, the United States would be able, through them, to be able to get hold of Gulen, the rival for Turkey's political situation."

A spokesman for Flynn flatly denied Woolsey's characterization of the meeting.

"The claim made by Mr. Woolsey that General Flynn, or anyone else in attendance, discussed physical removal of Mr. Gulen from the United States during a meeting with Turkish officials in New York is false," Flynn spokesman Price Floyd said in a statement. "No such discussion occurred. Nor did Mr. Woolsey ever inform General Flynn that he had any concerns whatsoever regarding the meeting, either before he chose to attend, or afterwards."

The Wall Street Journal first reported Woolsey's claims Friday.

Flynn was advising the Trump campaign at the time. He became national security adviser after Donald Trump became President in January but resigned in mid-February, after he reportedly misled administration officials about his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Woolsey, who was CIA director under President Bill Clinton and was on President Trump's team for about five months before quitting in January, said he didn't hear enough of what was said to make any definitive statements about what happened before he got there.

"The reason I'm being cautious about how this was worded is because I wasn't there for much of this meeting," said Woolsey, who nevertheless described the meeting as "suspicious" and "concerning."

"I felt I needed to say something to somebody, but was it a clear plot that they were going to seize him? No," he said.

The White House acknowledged earlier this month that Trump's transition team was aware Flynn engaged in work that would likely require him to register his consulting firm as a foreign agent before he was tapped to serve as national security adviser.

Flynn Intel Group received $530,000 in payments from a Turkish-owned company based in the Netherlands and earlier this month registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department, acknowledging that the work may have benefited the Turkish government, according to foreign agent registration paperwork filed with the department.

Flynn's firm was not compensated by the Turkish government, but by Inovo BV, a company owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, according to the Justice Department filing. Alptekin is also the chairman of a US-Turkish business council.

However, as part of that work, Flynn met with Turkish government officials in September 2016, including Turkey's ministers of foreign affairs and energy, his firm disclosed in the filing. The meetings came around the time when Flynn traveled regularly with Trump on his private plane and frequently introduced him at campaign rallies.

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Flynn discussed how to 'whisk' away cleric wanted by Turkey: report

By Megan R. Wilson on The Hill

Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, reportedly discussed ways to take a man wanted by the Turkish government out of the United States without going through the legal extradition process, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The conversation, which took place during the presidential race while Flynn was serving as an unpaid adviser to Trump, centered around Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The Turkish government has long wanted to take custody of Gulen, 75, who has been exiled in Pennsylvania since 1999.

Among other things, Turkey blames him for orchestrating the deadly and unsuccessful military coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year. The country has pressed the U.S. for his extradition.
The Journal report cites former CIA Director James Woolsey, who attended the meeting with Flynn and high-level Turkish officials, and others with details on what happened. Woolsey and the sources said the ideas that were discussed for dealing with Gulen were hypothetical.

However, one plan was “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away,” Woolsey told the Journal. He said he had walked into the middle of the conversation and reportedly “found the topic startling and the actions being discussed possibly illegal.”

A spokesman for Flynn on Friday pushed back on the accusation and the Wall Street Journal report.

"The claim made by Mr. Woolsey that General Flynn, or anyone else in attendance, discussed physical removal of Mr. Gulen from the United States during a meeting with Turkish officials in New York is false. No such discussion occurred. Nor did Mr. Woolsey ever inform General Flynn that he had any concerns whatsoever regarding the meeting, either before he chose to attend, or afterwards," Price Floyd said in an emailed statement to The Hill.

Earlier this month, Flynn filed paperwork with the Justice Department retroactively disclosing work he did last year that may have benefited the government of Turkey.

From August through mid-November, the Flynn Intel Group received $530,000 from a Dutch consulting firm run by a Turkish businessman, according to the disclosure forms. Flynn shut down his firm in November.

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 focused on Gulen, was reportedly never finished or distributed.

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.”

It was on that day that Flynn made the suggestion to take Gulen to Turkey from the United States, the Journal article says. One of the officials in the meeting was Erdogan’s son-in-law, disclosure forms reveal.

In November, Flynn penned an op-ed article in The Hill that called Gulen a “radical Islamist” who “portrays himself as a moderate.” Justice Department forms say the op-ed came from the research he did for the consulting firm.

Flynn was fired from his White House post last month for allegedly misleading Vice President Pence and other senior officials about his communications with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. after the presidential election.

Flynn also made contradictory statements to FBI investigators about whether he discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy, according to The Washington Post.

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