Flynn misled Pentagon about Russia ties: Letter

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn's failure to make disclosures over income received from firms in Russia, and his apparent attempt to mislead the Pentagon could put him in legal jeopardy.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn's failure to make disclosures over income received from firms in Russia, and his apparent attempt to mislead the Pentagon could put him in legal jeopardy.

WASHINGTON • Former national security adviser Michael Flynn misled Pentagon investigators about his income from firms in Russia and contacts with officials there when he applied for a renewal of his top-secret security clearance last year, showed a letter released by the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.

Mr Flynn told investigators in February last year that he received no income from foreign firms and had only "insubstantial contact" with foreign nationals, according to the letter. In fact, two months earlier, he sat beside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a Moscow gala for Kremlin-financed TV network RT, which paid him over US$45,000 (S$62,400) to attend and give a separate speech.

Mr Flynn's failure to make those disclosures and apparent attempt to mislead the Pentagon could put him in further legal jeopardy. Intentionally lying to federal investigators is a felony punishable by up to five years' jail. Separately, he faces legal questions over failing to properly register as a foreign agent for lobbying he did last year for Turkey while advising Mr Donald Trump's campaign - also a felony.

The House letter, written by Representative Elijah Cummings, was made public on Monday, hours after Mr Flynn formally rejected a subpoena for e-mails and records from senators probing Russian interference in last year's polls, choosing to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

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The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution protects individuals from being compelled to be witnesses against themselves in criminal cases. But federal criminal defence lawyer Todd Bussert said the Fifth "doesn't have the same level of protection" when it comes to documents - it protects someone from making incriminatory comments about himself, but it does not protect him from things he said in the past. Documents are a form of past behaviour, he said.

Still, there is a Fifth Amendment protection. Washington lawyer Eric Delinsky explained a concept called the "act of production" doctrine. He said: "If the act of producing documents in response to a subpoena or other order would incriminate or exculpate an individual, then that person can invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege and decline to produce the material."

The risk is that the Senate committee could hold Mr Flynn in contempt, referring the matter to the full Senate, which could refer the matter to the US attorney for criminal charges. He could be convicted of a crime for withholding the documents and face jail time - regardless of what the documents say.

His lawyers said the accusations gave him "reasonable cause to apprehend danger" should he comply with the subpoena, but they also reiterated his willingness to testify in exchange for immunity.

Meanwhile, former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey is delaying an appearance before the House Oversight Committee planned for today. President Trump fired him on May 9.

Panel chairman Jason Chaffetz said Mr Comey told him that, before testifying in public, he wanted to speak to former FBI director Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing ties between Russia and the Trump presidential election campaign.

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'Flynn misled Pentagon about Russia ties: Letter'. Print Edition | Subscribe