The culpability of Donald Trump who hired de-frocked Lt. General Michael Flynn as our National Security Advisor, goes far beyond Sen. Howard Baker’s legendary Watergate question of “What did the president know and when did he know it?”
After he was fired last month for lying about his clandestine calls to the Russian Ambassador, The AP broke a story Wednesday revealing Flynn’s retroactive registration as an agent for The Republic of Turkey. In fact, he’d filed paperwork the very day before which disclosed how he’d earned $530,000 to lobby for the authoritarian regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan starting in August at the same time he was serving as a key advisor to the Trump campaign.
During Friday’s WH briefing Press Secretary Sean Spicer was hammered with questions about the disgraced NSA. When asked if “the President was informed at all about” Flynn’s “arrangement” to lobby for a foreign power he pointedly said, “No, he was not.”
Thursday night, VP Mike Pence, whom Flynn had previously lied to about his calls with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, told Fox News that he wasn’t aware of Flynn’s paid Turkish connection until this week, even though Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) had sent him a letter November 18th expressing concern that Flynn was “receiving classified briefings during the… campaign while his consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, Inc. was being paid to lobby… for Turkish interests.”
Given that one of Donald Trump’s signature campaign promises, along with “drain the swamp,” was the “extreme vetting” of immigrants, it’s fair to ask just how much care went into the selection of an appointee like Flynn, who enjoyed the highest level of security clearance and sat front and center across The Resolute Desk from the Commander-in-Chief?
Last July in a stunning “pot-calling-the-kettle-black” moment during The Republican National Convention, Flynn labeled Barack Obama a “reckless president” and led the chants to “lock her up” as he derided Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
He even went so far as to demand that she drop out of the White House race for putting what he called “our nation’s security at extremely high risk.” Six weeks later his soon-to-be boss famously urged the Russians to “find the 30,000 emails that are missing” But so, far no one has proven that a single Clinton electronic communication impacted the nation’s safety.
Still, you have to wonder just how U.S. interests might have been compromised if Michael Flynn hadn’t been forced to resign over his multiple conversations with Russia’s top spy in D.C.
And more to the point, getting back to Sen. Baker’s Watergate question, just how out-of-the-loop could Donald Trump have been about Flynn’s alleged secret status as a paid foreign agent?
MULTIPLE MEDIA REPORTS
On November 14th, turkishminute.com, a progressive web portal staffed by journalists outside the reach of Turkey’s autocratic strongman, published a piece featuring a shot of Flynn (in uniform) next to Ekim Alptekin, identified as “chairman of The Turkish American Business Council and a close ally of President… Erdoğan.”
That piece cited a report published three days earlier by Chuck Ross on the conservative U.S. based website dailycaller.com under the headline “Trump’s Top Military Adviser Is Lobbying For Obscure Company With Ties to Turkish Government.” Remember, this was six days after the election that swept Donald Trump into office despite a popular vote loss of nearly 3 million.
“The revelation of that new lobbying contract, which has not been previously reported,” Ross wrote, “raises several questions given that Trump is said to be considering Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), to take over as either Secretary of Defense or National Security Advisor. It also raises questions about disclosure.”
Politico then advanced the story even further, reporting that Inovo BV, the firm controlled by Alpetekin that hired Flynn, was “an arm of the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey, whose members are chosen by the country’s general assembly and economic minister.” In that capacity Alptekin was “involved in organizing… Erdogan’s visit to Washington earlier this year.”
In short, Flynn’s Turkish paymaster was little more than a surrogate for the hyper-repressive Erdoğan regime.
So how could a report on Flynn’s hiring as a foreign agent have escaped the scrutiny of Trump’s transition team – particularly at a time when Rep. Cummings warned the Vice-President-elect that the ex-Lieutenant General was privy to classified briefings?
And if Flynn’s conflicted status as a foreign agent wasn’t clear at that point in mid-November, alarm bells should have gone off inside Trump Tower on December 13th when Kurt Eichenwald published his groundbreaking Newsweek cover story headlined, “Conflict Zone.”
Connecting the dots as few reporters had done at that point, Eichenwald reminded readers beyond The Beltway that Flynn had gone so far as to pen a piece for The Hill on election day unabashedly supporting Erdoğan and condemning his principal rival: Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric and Turkish opposition leader who has been forced to live in exile in Pennsylvania for nearly 20 years.
Calling him “a shady Islamic mullah,” Flynn compared Gülen to the Ayatollah Khomeini, “whose Revolutionary Guards (in Iran) “created Hezbollah.”
In his blistering screed Flynn warned that the U.S. “should not provide him safe haven,” pushing for Gulen’s extradition, a goal at the top Erdoğan’s wish list and one the Obama administration had steadfastly resisted. “From Turkey’s point of view,” wrote Flynn, “Washington is harboring Turkey’s Osama bin Laden.”
The next day after Flynn’s Hill piece ran, sensing that they now owned an asset who would soon be calling shots on national security, Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim issued a statement congratulating Mr. Trump with what he described as “a clarion call … to extradite Fetullah Gülen … as soon as possible…” He them promised that Gülen’s removal would “open a new chapter for Turkey-U.S. friendship.”
THE QUID IN THE QUID PRO QUO
How much pressure to knuckle under to that extradition request might Donald Trump have felt at that point? Considerable, since it would have clearly impacted his personal bottom line.
That’s because in 2010 Donald Trump cut a deal with Dogan Holding, a Turkish media and development giant to license his name for use in a huge twin tower/shopping mall complex in Istanbul.
As the NYT reported campaign records showed payments from Dogan to The Trump Organization of between $1 and $5 million by July of 2015. But that lucrative deal was in jeopardy five months later when Erdoğan publicly threatened to strip the Trump name from those Towers following the candidate’s infamous threat to ban “all Muslims” entering the U.S.
“[Trump] has no tolerance for Muslims living in the U.S.” Erdoğan declared in a speech, reported, ironically by Russia Today (RT) the Kremlin media network that also paid Michael Flynn to give a speech and sit elbow-to-elbow at a dinner next to Vladimir Putin. Just how deep can the swamp get?
Anyway, Erdoğan was livid as he chastised Trump for using “a brand in [Istanbul] with his name.” He even went so far as to threaten that “the ones who put that brand on their building should immediately remove it.”
Clearly he was aiming at the Dogan Holding, whom he’d repeatedly threatened in the past. In 2009 the Erdoğan regime levied a fine of $2.5 billion in alleged unpaid taxes and penalties against Dogan Yayin, the conglomorate’s media group. That move was clearly meant to chill Aydin Dogan, the company’s president, who’d been openly critical of the Turkish leader.
But once Flynn’s piece in The Hill was published, Erdoğan seemed to back off. In fact, the next day, as Eichenwald reported, he was on the phone with the President-elect and on that call Mr. Trump “passed on compliments to the Turkish president” from one of his partners on the Istanbul project, a senior Dogan official named Mehmet Ali Yalcindag.
The son-in-law of Dogan Holding’s owner, Yalcindag is so close to the Trump family that he attended the election night victory celebration at The New York Hilton and he’s been regularly photographed with the President and daughter Ivanka, the public Trump Org. face on the Istanbul project.
By early December, despite the fact that his secret agent Flynn was embedded in the Trump transition team, Erdoğan felt the need to hedge his bets and gain additional leverage over the President-elect.
As Eichanwald reported, on December 1st, Barbaros Muratogl, a senior Dogan executive, was detained by Turkish authorities “on threadbare allegations” for allegedly maintaining links to Gülen, whom Erdoğan blamed for the July 15th, 2016 “coup” to depose him. Reportedly led by the Turkish military at the time, the thwarted coup, Gülen later insisted, was little more than an Erdoğan false flag plot to unite the country against him.
Breaking the details of the Newsweek story on the eve of publication, Rachel Maddow described Muratogl’s seizure in no uncertain terms:
“What if you could squeeze the personal financial interests of the American President as a way of trying to get what you want from the American government?” she asked. “The Trump family stands to make millions of dollars from their relationship with the Dogan Group in Turkey. That will presumably stop if the Dogan group in Turkey all gets locked up. Now they’ve started locking them up. Nice leverage, right?”
She then quoted from Eichanwald’s cover story:
“If Erdoğan’s government puts more pressure on the company that’s paying millions of dollars to Trump and his children, revenue flowing from that tower complex in Istanbul could be cut off. That means Erdoğan has leverage with Trump, who will soon have the power to get Gülen extradited. (A) financier with contacts in the Turkish government explained the dynamic to Newsweek: ‘Erdoğan has something he believes Trump wants, and Trump has someone Erdoğan desperately wants.’”
INCOMPETENCE AND CORRUPTION
Since mid December, on investigatingtrump.com we’ve chronicled the best investigative reporting on the campaign, transition and presidency of Donald Trump, with emphasis on his many conflicts of interest and his mysterious ties to Russia, which 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concluded had helped influence the 2016 election in his favor.
Now the Flynn/Turkey scandal underscores the duel axes we’ve come to recognize in the Trump presidency: incompetence and corruption. From the bungled rollout, of the “Muslim ban,” to Mr. Trump’s recent admission that “Nobody knew Health Care Could Be So Complicated,” to his false allegations of voter fraud, and baseless Tweets that he was wiretapped by Barack Obama.
Betraying the campaign promise that he’d get the “best people” people to work for him, Donald Trump appointed the likes of Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions, who’s already been forced to recuse himself from DOJ investigations of Russian influence in the campaign and Kellyanne Conway, so mistrusted for her conflations and lies that she was blacklisted by “Morning Joe.”
Then there’s Scott Pruitt, ex-AG from Oklahoma — the climate change denier and flack for the fossil fuel industry, who is determined to dismantle decades long environmental protections as boss of the EPA.
And let’s not forget that this latest embarrassment surrounding Flynn began with the Trump transition’s dismissal of Flynn’s son for pushing that fatuous “pizzagate” conspiracy, a fake news story claiming that members of the Democratic Party were tied to a child-sex ring. Propagated by right-wing websites, that looney tunes story actually led to a shooting in a D.C. area pizzeria.
How was it, as one reporter asked Spicer on Friday, that Flynn’s early failure to register as a foreign agent didn’t “raise a red flag?” His response? “It’s not a question of raising red flags. It’s the question of whether (Flynn’s lawyers) gave them (the transition team) advice they were supposed to, it’s not up to them to make decisions as to what you need to do or not do.”
Actually, that’s precisely the job of a vetting team. But the larger question is why Sean Spicer continues to defend his boss’s gross negligence in putting Michael Flynn, a man with epic bad judgment, in the same room as the military aide who carries the nuclear launch codes?
And here’s another question everyone in the media should be asking: why doesn’t Flynn’s duplicity focus a laser beam on the hypocrisy of two more Trump campaign promises: the first to issue a “lifetime ban against senior executive branch officials lobbying on behalf of foreign government(s)” and the second for “campaign finance reform” preventing “registered foreign lobbyist(s) from raising money in American elections.”
What meaning do those pledges have if the President’s spokesman just blows off the foreign lobby issue?
Now comes the biggest danger we may face – that this perpetual crisis of incompetence, corruption, fake news and frontal assaults on the media will create a normalized state of chaos – where ever more outrageous attacks on the truth and the stable democracy we seemed to enjoy until election day will began to exhaust us. Not just reporters whose job it is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” but every American who wants nothing more than affordable health care, a safe place to raise their children and a chance to hit The Powerball.
I started investigatingtrump.com as a resource for other reporters and an archive of the history that’s being made every day with blinding speed. Now, as I research a book on the blackmail-like influence The Kremlin seems to have over the 45th president, I find myself identifying with Zeno of Elea, the Greek philosopher who lived between 490 and 430 B.C.
Best known for his paradoxes, like the one that famously involved Achilles in a race with a tortoise, Zeno hypothesized that despite what we perceive through our senses, motion or a forward trajectory is just an illusion.
In an exercise in “overthink” he reasoned that by perpetually dividing the distance between two points, we would never arrive at our destination.
Aristotle credited Zeno with creating the dialetic, the method he used for discovering truth. But the dialectic was later hijacked by Marx & Engels to forge what became the official philosophy of Soviet Communism – the premise that historical and political events are the product of social forces in conflict, prompted by material needs.
That’s exactly where we find ourselves now: a nation in what seems like an endless series of arguments with rigid forces unwilling to compromise. The oldest democracy on earth watches as the scourge of nationalism creeps across Europe and into our homeland and the principal winner seems to be Vlad Putin, the ex-KGB hood my research suggests, installed Donald Trump in The White House.
It’s that same shit storm of lies, Tweets, conflations and bungling that explains how most of the Mainstream Media missed the Flynn/Turkey/conflict back in the fall. Simply put: Donald Trump overwhelms.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
We can retreat into our tortoise shells and hide under the covers waiting for Kim Jong-un to crash our missile defense system with a space-based nuclear blast. We can continue to deny, as the MSM keeps doing, that our local voting systems are impervious to hack. Or we can remember the words of Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn) from the second incarnation of Alien in 1986: “Hey, I know we’re all in strung-out shape, but stay frosty and alert. We can’t afford to let one of those bastards in here.”
Some might argue that one of those bastards already got in. So now, more than ever, this is not the time to get tired; particularly the reporters whose job it is to pound away at the president and congress until the truth behind all of this corruption is laid bare.
The good news is that each day more pieces of the puzzle reach the surface. We learn more about the President’s conflicts of interest and the troubling connection between his surrogates and Russia’s role in the most shocking victory in U.S. electoral history.
With each broken campaign promise we come to see Donald Trump for who he really is. More Americans who slept through civics as school kids are engaging in the political process. The news networks who gave wall-to-wall coverage to the candidate’s airport rallies, as he denigrated their own reporters, are now showing some spine.
Like everyone else, there are moments in my day when I feel blitzed by the overload. Then The Times or The Post or The AP breaks a story like the one on Wednesday and I get my game back.
With two of the three branches of government controlled by the GOP and the third about to swing in their favor if Trump gets his way on the Gorsuch nomination, there was never a time when we needed the oversight of the media more. So I’m going to keep writing, populating the website with the best reporting I can find and connecting as many of the dots as possible.
To paraphrase the Dos Equis campaign, “Stay frosty my friends.”