Trump team knew of Michael Flynn probe before hiring him as National Security Adviser

 As national security adviser, Flynn (above) had access to the president and nearly every secret held by US intelligence agencies.
As national security adviser, Flynn (above) had access to the president and nearly every secret held by US intelligence agencies.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Michael Flynn told President Donald Trump's transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case.

Despite this warning, which came about a month after the Justice Department notified Flynn of the inquiry, Trump made Flynn his national security adviser. The job gave Flynn access to the president and nearly every secret held by US intelligence agencies.

Flynn's disclosure, on Jan 4, was first made to the transition team's chief lawyer, Donald McGahn II, who is now the White House counsel. That conversation, and another one two days later between Flynn's lawyer and transition lawyers, shows that the Trump team knew about the investigation of Flynn far earlier than has been previously reported.

His legal issues have been a problem for the White House from the beginning and are at the center of a growing political crisis for Trump. Flynn, who was fired after 24 days in the job, was initially kept on even after the acting attorney-general, Sally Yates, warned the White House that he might be subject to blackmail by the Russians for misleading Vice-President Mike Pence about the nature of conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to Washington.

After Flynn's dismissal, Trump tried to get James Comey, the FBI director, to drop the investigation - an act that some legal experts say is grounds for an investigation of Trump for possible obstruction of justice. He fired Comey on May 9.

The White House declined to comment on whether officials there had known about Flynn's legal troubles before the inauguration.

Flynn, a retired general, is one of a handful of Trump associates under scrutiny in intertwined federal investigations into their financial links to foreign governments and whether any of them helped Russia interfere in the presidential election.

In congressional testimony, the acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, has confirmed the existence of a "highly significant" investigation into possible collusion between Trump's associates and Russian operatives to sway the presidential election.

The pace of the investigations has intensified in recent weeks, with a veteran espionage prosecutor, Brandon Van Grack, now leading a grand jury inquiry in Northern Virginia that is scrutinising Flynn's foreign lobbying and has begun issuing subpoenas to businesses that worked with Flynn and his associates.