By Georgia Logothetis, Managing Director
The Wall Street Journal this week highlighted that Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s former national security advisor, is seeking an immunity deal in exchange for providing information to the FBI or to investigative committees in Congress. It’s unclear what information Flynn may have, or what he believes may require immunity. There are many pieces on the proverbial chess board, involving both Russia and Turkey.
It may well be that Flynn is seeking immunity for his action relating to lobbying for Turkey. To recap what we know so far:
- In July of 2016, Flynn spoke out against what he said was Turkey’s “move towards Islamism” and praised the attempted coup in Turkey, claiming if successful it would lead to a more secular Turkey — “That is worth clapping for,” he said. [source]
- On August 9, 2016, Flynn’s consulting group signed a contract with Inovo, a Dutch-based company owned by Ekim Alptekin, the chairman of the Turkish-U.S. Business Council (an organization that promotes Turkish government interests).
- On Election Day, Flynn published an op-ed in The Hill denouncing the attempted coup, calling Turkey a vital ally in the region, and claiming “[w]e need to see the world from Turkey’s perspective.” The op-ed called for the extradition of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania and is accused by Turkey’s government of plotting the failed coup this summer (Gulen denies the allegation and Turkey has been trying to extradite Gulen for years, claiming anti-government activities) [source]
- On November 14, 2016, POLITICO reported that Flynn’s consulting firm — Flynn Intel Group — “is lobbying for Turkish interests.” [source]
- On November 18, 2016, President Trump appointed Flynn as his national security advisor. [source]
- On December 9, 2016, senators requested a review of Flynn’s security clearance based on his lobbying for Turkish interests. [source]
- On February 13, 2017, following revelations that Flynn lied about contacts with Russian officials during and after the campaign, Flynn resigned. [source]
- On March 8, 2017, Flynn retroactively registered as a foreign agent, disclosing that his firm was paid $530,000 from August through November for lobbying that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.” [source]
- On March 10, 2017, the White House acknowledged that “President Donald Trump’s transition team was aware that retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn engaged in work that would likely require him to register his consulting firm as a foreign agent [for Turkey] before Flynn was tapped to serve as national security adviser.” [source]
- On March 24, 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported that Flynn met with senior representatives of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in September 2016 to discuss removing Gulen from the country. According to former CIA Director James Woolsey, who arrived late at the meeting, 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.” [source]
Whatever the fallout for all this for Flynn, it paints a very clear picture of the Turkish lobby’s influence in DC. Clearly, the Turkish government and its allies have been willing to spend millions to sway policy on Capitol Hill — and it’s startling how effective their strategy has been.
As has been reported, Turkey “is the poster child when it comes to foreign lobbying opportunities for former members of both parties”:
In recent years, the country’s increasingly autocratic government has employed an army of lobbyists, including Gephardt, Lott, Breaux, former House Speaker-elect Bob Livingston (R-La.), the late Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), former CIA director and longtime House member Porter Goss (R-Fla.) and former Reps. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) and Jim McCrery (R-La.).
The favorable treatment these former lawmakers seek for their clients often bumps against U.S. foreign policy or the interests of the constituents they once served, and, in some cases, they are putting foreign companies over U.S. businesses, whether the issue is recognizing the Armenian genocide or sanctioning a Belarusian potash company.
The issue of recognizing the Armenian Genocide is a sobering example of how money talks in DC. Take former House minority leader Dick Gephardt, for example. As POLITICO explained:
During his time in the House representing Missouri, Gephardt was a champion for the Armenian-American community’s top priority in Washington: getting Congress to adopt a resolution recognizing the mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman government in the run-up to World War I as a genocide. […] But after joining the private sector and taking Turkey as a client, Gephardt made a striking turnabout, lobbying his former colleagues on Capitol Hill to vote against the genocide resolution. His backflip on the issue has earned him charges of hypocrisy and even a boycott campaign by Armenian-Americans, as the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported earlier this year.
It’s why the issue of recognizing the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide is still a perennial controversy in Washington…indeed, even this year, in advance of the 102nd anniversary on April 24th, members of Congress have reintroduced a resolution on the genocide (these resolutions almost always also include a reference to the fact that Greeks and others were also targeted in the genocidal campaign by the Ottomans). Given the money behind Turkish efforts to suppress the legislation, grassroots activists will have to rally to offset the Turkish lobby’s influence on this issue.
Whatever comes of Flynn’s predicament, it unveils the strength and reach of the Turkish lobby in Washington, one that must be met with a renewed call to action by the Hellenic diaspora to fight for Hellenic issues, democratic values, and stability in the region.