Whistle-blower says Flynn promised business associate that Trump would rip up Russia sanctions

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia on Dec 1, 2017.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia on Dec 1, 2017.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Former national security adviser Michael Flynn promised a business associate before the inauguration of Mr Donald Trump that US sanctions with Russia would be "ripped up" by the incoming administration, according to a witness account described by House Democrats.

Mr Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said on Wednesday (Dec 6) that the whistle-blower described how within minutes of Mr Trump being sworn in, Flynn texted a former business colleague saying they were "good to go" with a plan to work with Russia on building Middle East nuclear reactors.

Mr Cummings detailed the whistle-blower's account in a letter to House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, saying the witness came forward in June and that he has now been authorised to share his account publicly.

Mr Cummings said the whistle-blower detailed a business effort that was aimed at boosting investment in the Middle East. It was pushed by a company that Flynn had advised during the 2016 campaign and transition, seeking to promote a joint venture with Russia to build nuclear power plants in the region.

The letter said that if this witness account is accurate, Mr Trump's national security adviser "was trying to manipulate the course of international nuclear policy for the financial gain of his former business partners".

The whistle-blower told Mr Cummings that he saw a text from Flynn that was sent on Jan 20 "approximately 10 minutes" into Mr Trump's speech when Flynn was sitting in the audience.

"These grave allegations compel a full, credible, and bipartisan congressional investigation," Mr Cummings wrote in the letter to Mr Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, which outlines the information provided by the whistle-blower.

Mr Gowdy, in a written response later on Wednesday to Mr Cummings, panned the idea of the Oversight Committee doing its own investigation into what the whistle-blower has to say.

"If you have evidence of a crime, you should provide it to the special counsel immediately," Mr Gowdy wrote.

The chairman said he shared Mr Cummings's letter with the Republican leading the Intelligence Committee's Trump-Russia probe, as well as that panel's top Democrat, "so they may determine whether to add witnesses" to that panel's witness list.

 

Mr Michael Conaway, who is leading the House Intelligence probe, declined to comment on Wednesday, saying he did not yet know enough about the matter.

On Friday, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia. The plea made clear that Flynn was cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into the Trump campaign's contacts with Russian officials during the presidential election.

House Oversight Democrats have already consulted with Mr Mueller about the whistle-blower. Mr Cummings wrote that Mr Mueller's team asked lawmakers to hold off on a public release of this information until certain investigative steps were taken.

Now, Mr Cummings wrote, he and his colleagues have been authorised to to go public with the information.

He also said he finds the whistle-blower to be "authentic, credible and reliable", and someone who has come forward even though he fears retaliation because "he feels duty bound as a citizen to make this disclosure".

The whistle-blower told Mr Cummings that he was attending an inaugural event on Jan 20, where he met one of Flynn's key allies on this project, Mr Alex Copson, who is described as a managing partner of ACU Strategic Partners, and was working with Flynn to promote the joint project with Russia to build nuclear reactors in the Arab world.

He greeted Mr Copson at the event, and asked how he was doing. Mr Copson was described by the whistle-blower as responding, "I couldn't be better," and that he was "going to celebrate today".

He added, "This is going to make a lot of very wealthy people."

Mr Cummings's letter goes on to relate that during the conversation, Mr Copson told the whistle-blower that he "just got a text message" from Flynn that the project was "good to go" and to contact their business colleagues to "let them know to put things in place".

Mr Copson showed his phone with the text message to the whistle-blower, who saw that the time stamp of the message was 12:11, but did not read the text.

The whistle-blower recalled the time stamp because it was during Mr Trump's address.

According to Mr Cummings's letter to Mr Gowdy, Mr Copson then told the whistle-blower, "Mike has been putting everything in place for us."

Mr Copson explained that Flynn was making sure that sanctions were going to be "ripped up" as one of the first orders of business and this would allow money to start flowing to the project.

"When the whistle-blower asked why the United States needed to be involved in a Middle East nuclear project, Mr Copson explained that the US would provide military support to 'defend these installations'," the letter said.

ACU Strategic Partners issued a statement on Wednesday saying, "No member of ACU received any communication in any form from General Flynn during the presidential campaign, the presidential transition, the inauguration, the period following the inauguration when Gen Flynn served as national security adviser or subsequent to Gen Flynn's resignation."

Mr Copson couldn't be located for comment.

Based on the witness's account, Mr Cummings requested that Mr Gowdy issue subpoenas to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly - as a custodian of White House records - Flynn, Michael Flynn Jr, the Flynn Intel Group, Mr Copson, and others, for e-mails, text messages and other documents related to Flynn's foreign contacts and payments. 

"I believe our committee can and should pursue these allegations against Gen Flynn in a responsible way in consultation with the special counsel's office," he wrote.

Mr Cumming added, "If you agree to protect the individual's identity, this whistle-blower will speak with you directly so you can verify the information in this letter."