Trump Team Knew Flynn Was Under Investigation Before Naming Him National Security Adviser

The Trump White House knew Michael Flynn was under investigation and named him National Security Adviser anyway.

The New York Times is reporting that the Trump transition team knew that retired Lt. General Michael Flynn was under investigation prior to naming him as Trump’s choice for National Security Adviser:

WASHINGTON — Michael T. Flynn told President 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 Mr. Flynn of the inquiry, Mr. Trump made Mr. Flynn his national security adviser. The job gave Mr. Flynn access to the president and nearly every secret held by American intelligence agencies.

Mr. Flynn’s disclosure, on Jan. 4, was first made to the transition team’s chief lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, who is now the White House counsel. That conversation, and another one two days later between Mr. Flynn’s lawyer and transition lawyers, shows that the Trump team knew about the investigation of Mr. 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 Mr. Trump. Mr. Flynn, who was fired after 24 days in the job, was initially kept on even after the acting attorney general, Sally Q. 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 Mr. Flynn’s dismissal, Mr. Trump tried to get James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, to drop the investigation — an act that some legal experts say is grounds for an investigation of Mr. Trump for possible obstruction of justice. He fired Mr. Comey on May 9.

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

Mr. 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 F.B.I. director, Andrew G. McCabe, has confirmed the existence of a “highly significant” investigation into possible collusion between Mr. 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 scrutinizing Mr. Flynn’s foreign lobbying and has begun issuing subpoenas to businesses that worked with Mr. Flynn and his associates.

The New York Times has reviewed one of the subpoenas. It demands all “records, research, contracts, bank records, communications” and other documents related to work with Mr. Flynn and the Flynn Intel Group, the business he set up after he was forced out as chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014.

The subpoena also asks for similar records about Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman who is close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and is chairman of the Turkish-American Business Council. There is no indication that Mr. Alptekin is under investigation.

Signed by Dana J. Boente, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, the subpoena instructs the recipient to direct any questions about its contents to Mr. Van Grack.


Trump campaign officials first became aware of a problem with Mr. Flynn’s business dealings in early November. On Nov. 8, the day of the election, Mr. Flynn wrote an op-ed in The Hill that advocated improved relations between Turkey and the United States and called Mr. Gulen “a shady Islamic mullah.”

“If he were in reality a moderate, he would not be in exile, nor would he excite the animus of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government,” the op-ed said.

Days later, after an article in The Daily Caller revealed that the Flynn Intel Group had a contract with Inovo, a Trump campaign lawyer held a conference call with members of the Flynn Intel Group, according to one person with knowledge of the call. The lawyer, William McGinley, was seeking more information about the nature of the group’s foreign work and wanted to know whether Mr. Flynn had been paid for the op-ed.

Mr. McGinley now works in the White House as cabinet secretary and deputy assistant to the president.

The Justice Department also took notice. The op-ed in The Hill raised suspicions that Mr. Flynn was working as a foreign agent, and in a letter dated Nov. 30, the Justice Department notified Mr. Flynn that it was scrutinizing his lobbying work.

Mr. Flynn hired a lawyer a few weeks later. By Jan. 4, the day Mr. Flynn informed Mr. McGahn of the inquiry, the Justice Department was investigating the matter.

Mr. Kelner then followed up with another call to the Trump transition’s legal team. He ended up leaving a message, identifying himself as Mr. Flynn’s lawyer. According to a person familiar with the case, Mr. Kelner did not get a call back until two days later, on Jan. 6.

Leaving aside all of the questions about potential Russian interference in the election and the extent of contacts between Trump advisers such as Flynn and Russia investigation, this report raises mostly questions about the competence of the Trump transition team and the White House in general. Apparently, the notifications that Flynn and his lawyer sent to the Trump transition team were either consciously ignored by the people who received them, that they were not properly communicated up the chain of command, or that they were known by everyone, including Trump himself, and basically brushed aside as inconsequential. As a result of this Flynn was appointed to a position that gave him access to the innermost workings of the national security establishment as well as the nation’s top secrets.

This news, of course, comes on top of the fact that we already knew that it was within a week or so after Inauguration Day that the Trump Administration was notified by then Acting Attorney General Sally Yates that Flynn had lied to the transition team and to Vice-President Mike Pence regarding his contacts with Russian officials after the 2016 elections. It wasn’t long after this that Yates was fired by Trump for her refusal to defend his original Muslim travel ban Executive Order in Court. Flynn, meanwhile, wasn’t dismissed until more than two weeks after Yates had advised the White House of his misrepresentations, and it was the day after that happened that Trump allegedly asked former F.B.I Director James Comey to drop the Flynn investigation in a conversation that many have characterized as a possible attempt to obstruct justice. Comey, of course, was himself fired by Trump earlier this month just days after he confirmed to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Bureau was investigating Russian interference in the election and contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian officians during the campaign. Meanwhile, Trump has continued to defend Flynn notwithstanding the fact that he had left the Administration under a cloud.  At the very least, all of this raises questions about the competence of the transition team and the people around Trump in the White House, as well about Trump himself to the extent that he apparently still sought to intervene on Flynn’s behalf even after having fired him for lying.

All of this raises questions regarding competence inside the transition team and the White House, as well as about the extent to which Flynn was able to influence policy during his time as Trump’s principal foreign policy adviser. On the transition team side, it’s worth noting that this effort was thrown into chaos in mid-December when Trump decided for reasons that have yet to be fully explained to push aside New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who he had named to head the transition team after the election, and hand the entire transition effort over to Vice-President-Elect Pence, who was given less than a month to pull together a transition that would happen within barely a month after he took over the process. In the process, it has been reported by multiple sources that much of the work that Christie and his team had done to vet potential appointments was either ignored, lost, or tossed aside, meaning that the Trump team had to start from scratch in mid-December on a process that needed to be in place by January 20th. That disorganization has apparently continued into the early days of the Administration and continues to impact the functioning of the White House. Whether this is the explanation for why Flynn was ultimately appointed to the position he held for just 24 days despite the fact that the Administration was told that he was under investigation by the Justice Department, or why he was appointed to that position despite the fact that everyone who needed to know was or should have been aware of the investigation, is a complete unknown at this point.

In any event, these latest disclosures and other information that has become public since Flynn’s dismissal from the White House make clear that Flynn is likely one of the chief focuses of the ongoing investigation. The interesting question, of course, is whether Flynn may have other information regarding contact between Trump associates and Russian officials that Justice Department investigators and the F.B.I. might be interested in to the point where it could be possible that newly appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller might be interested in making a deal with him to get to a target higher up the chain of command. Already, it seems clear that there’s strong evidence that Flynn broke several laws with respect to his representation of foreign governments both before and during his time in Trump’s inner circle, and the penalties for violating the pertinent laws in this area are serious and broad-ranging, including both substantial fines and time in prison if convicted.

All of this means that Mueller and his team potentially have a huge bargaining chip to hold over Flynn’s head that could prove important to the rest of the investigation. This could include a deal that includes guilty pleas in exchange for a more lenient sentence and Flynn’s full cooperation with the investigation or any subsequent prosecution, an outcome that seems more likely at this point than the idea that Flynn might be granted immunity. It’s far too early to say, but that would certainly be something to keep an eye out for. In any case, as James Joyner said this morning, this process is just beginning. Between Mueller’s investigation and what seem like inevitable Congressional investigations, this is likely to hang over the Trump Administration like a dark cloud for some time to come.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CSK says:

    Is this “new’ news? I seem to recall it being discussed here early this past March.

  2. Hal_10000 says:

    This is simply staggering incompetence. You have to wonder why Trump loves Flynn so much that he a) likely sacked his transition team because of him; b) it looks like it may have been a contributing factor to the Yates sacking; c) sacked the FBI chief over him. We now know that Flynn betrayed the country, pushing to delay action in Raqqa because his Turkish paymasters didn’t want it and likely has ties to Russia. Flynn is scum and Trump is going all out trying to protect him. I know people have a tendency to “hunker down” around their opinions when those opinions are under assault. But you’d think, at some point, he’d get the message that Flynn is bad news.

  3. CSK says:


    I hope you’re sitting down, Hal, because according to Politico, Trump is bringing back Corey Lewandowsky.

  4. Mark Ivey says:

    ^^ “Trump is bringing back Corey Lewandowsky.”

    I can’t take it anymore.. *dies laughing*

  5. CSK says:


    I don’t want to get all Freudian or whatever, but there exists a distinct possibility that Trump is somehow in awe of Flynn as his idea of an avatar of masculinity. Or he sees Flynn as daddy despite the fact that Flynn is younger.

  6. al-Alameda says:


    I don’t want to get all Freudian or whatever, but there exists a distinct possibility that Trump is somehow in awe of Flynn as his idea of an avatar of masculinity. Or he sees Flynn as daddy despite the fact that Flynn is younger.

    Well, I hadn’t thought of Trump in those terms but it certainly explains his ‘relationship’ with Putin. His perpetual search for a strong no-nonsense daddy like his own. And it explains his fear of (masked as disdain for) a strong female leader such as Angela Merkel.

  7. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Trump is bringing back Corey Lewandowsky

    You owe me a new monitor. My current one now has single malt all over it

    *laughing uncontrollably *

  8. CSK says:


    Hmmm. Did you see the post in which I offered to bribe you with a fine single-malt?

  9. CSK says:


    He has, in the past six months, expressed admiration for:


    What do you think?

  10. Mr. Bluster says:
  11. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:


    But you’d think, at some point, he’d get the message that Flynn is bad news.

    You can’t throw someone under the bus when they know where the bodies are buried. Dumb Don is probably Flynn’s only hope of staying out of jail, and Flynn can likely be the ruin of Don the Con.

  12. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl: It may not just be Don the Con but also, since he was head of the transition team, Mike Dense. This shows he is either incredibly incompetent, as venal as the rest of them, or a mushroom with a nice haircut.

  13. HarvardLaw92 says:


    I did. I’d be disbarred, but it’s tempting. I do love a good single malt. Make it a 31 year old Craigellachie and I might just consider it 🙂

  14. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    A little off topic….
    If I was Pence I would be quietly, but forcefully, lobbying for myself, and to get rid of Dumb Don. I don’t think it would be very hard to convince Ryan and McConnell they are more likely to get their tax cuts with me (Pence) than with a President mired in controversy and an approval-rating death spiral.
    I don’t want a President Pence anymore than I want a President Trump…but that’s what I would be doing.
    Just sayin’

  15. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Mr. Prosser:
    I vote for c…

    a mushroom with a nice haircut.

  16. al-Alameda says:


    I hope you’re sitting down, Hal, because according to Politico, Trump is bringing back Corey Lewandowsky.

    Okay, explain this to me: why Lewandowsky and not Curt Schilling?

  17. CSK says:


    Because it takes a real man to rough up a girl reporter, and I don’t think Schilling has done that.

  18. Gustopher says:

    And again I ponder which is the more plausible explanation:

    A – Trump is amazingly, staggeringly, monumentally stupid, and has surrounded himself with people that enable nearly any bad behavior and decisions

    B – Trump is deliberately trying to destroy his presidency, and has surrounded himself with people that enable nearly any bad behavior and decisions

    Unbelievably stupid. I am literally having trouble believing someone could be this systematically stupid and self defeating.

  19. CSK says:


    No question about A.

    As for B? I’m not sure he’s consciously trying to destroy his presidency. Hard to say what he’s “thinking,” since he has absolutely no capacity for introspection and probably isn’t aware of his own motivations, except or the most basic–and base–ones. He’s a creature of appetite, not reflection.

  20. Mr. Bluster says:
  21. CSK says:

    @Mr. Bluster:

    Thanks for posting this. The panel says it’s not surprised he refused.

    So now what?

  22. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Mr. Bluster:

    Cue up contempt of Congress. This one the US Attorney would have difficulty avoiding.

  23. DrDaveT says:

    Let this sink in — the Trump ‘administration’ deliberately put a man who was known to be a paid agent of the Turkish government into a position where he was bound to (and did) receive sensitive information pertaining to our plans in Turkey. From Foreign Policy:

    Just before Trump’s swearing-in, Obama’s national security advisor Susan Rice briefed Flynn on a plan to arm Kurdish YPG fighters in northern Syria in preparation for their assault on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa. The move was certain to enrage the Turks, who consider the YPG a terrorist group. Flynn told Rice to hold off on the plan, and Trump would make the call.

    Once again, if a Democratic administration had done this there would be spittle-flecked vituperation from the Hill, 24/7. The Democrats should be hammering this point incessantly — if the GOP actually cared about national security, they would be behaving very differently. It was clearly all just posing.

  24. Hal_10000 says:

    Matt Yglesias mate a good point on twitter. Trump’s evaluation of people is based entirely on their loyalty to him. The reason he keeps holding onto Flynn is because Flynn is loyal. And everyone he throws under the bus — Comey, etc. — is because they have been “disloyal”.

    This is the attitude of an autocrat, not a President.

  25. CSK says:


    It’s also manifestly the attitude of a goddamned imbecile.

    But Yglesias is exactly right.

  26. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    So, let’s review:
    The Trump campaign had 18 previously un-disclosed contacts with Russia in the 7 months before the election.
    While being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Turkey Flynn vetoed an anti-ISIS military operation that would have used Kurdish paramilitaries, which would be against the wishes of Turkey.
    Trump knew that Flynn was being investigated for his undeclared lobbying work on behalf of Turkey when he made him NSA.
    Flynn is now refusing to answer a Senate subpoena, after his offer to testify in exchange for immunity was refused.
    But seriously…this is fake news…the greatest witch hunt ever!!!

  27. Mr. Bluster says:

    Cue up contempt of Congress.

    Heavy! Heavy! Hangs Over Thy Poor Head!

  28. gVOR08 says:


    You have to wonder why Trump loves Flynn so much

    No. You have to wonder what Flynn has on Trump. Wonder what this “story” Flynn wants to tell, in exchange for immunity, is.

  29. michael reynolds says:

    Assume Trump is guilty of a crime but not very clever, and every single thing he has done on this makes sense.

    It not only explains Trump perfectly, it explains Jared. Jared pushed to get rid of Comey. Jared pushed for a more aggressive attack on Mueller. Like Trump, Jared’s behavior makes most sense if you assume he’s a guilty man.

    These are criminals. They know they’re guilty. Neither has any experience with fear, neither has ever really faced a serious consequence. On the one hand they can’t believe that they (Rich! Famous! White!) are in real trouble, but another part of them knows the truth.

    Here is why this investigation is different from Watergate, and why it is erupting like an angry zit. These are not politicians who got nailed for an ass-covering cover-up; these are amateur crooks with cop cars pulling up outside the house. (Been there. Not fun.)

    If I am right and there are serious underlying crimes, Trump is in deep, deep doo-doo. He can’t be prosecuted while in office, but whatever Mueller finds, it’s not going to magically disappear when Trump leaves office. He could be wearing handcuffs five seconds after his successor is sworn in. And Jared has no immunity at all. Jared can be arrested and charged at any time.

    So, what does a panicky, stupid and inexperienced psychopath do when the FBI is on them? That is the question. Trump may try to start a war. He may be rescued by some huge 9-11 scale distraction; he may continue to live in a fantasy where all he has to do is tough it out; he may order Sessions to fire Mueller; he may attempt a coup; he may decide he’s too beautiful a flower to waste himself on us and resign in a huff.

    What I can’t figure out is how he avoids being exposed as a criminal. You can’t run a cover-up when half the population of DC is leaking. If I were him I’d be talking to people on the Hill and to Mueller about a deal – resignation in return for no prosecution. Failing that I’d issue blanket pardons of everyone, including myself, and take an extended overseas trip to visit my golf course in Dubai. Or anywhere without an extradition treaty.
    At very least he needs to seriously lawyer up.

  30. Mr. Bluster says:
  31. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Mr. Bluster:

    The fun part here is that if they try to sidestep acting on the citation, it just compounds the perception of corruption.

  32. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    At very least he needs to seriously lawyer up

    He needs to find an attorney, tell that attorney EVERYthing, and then completely STFU post haste. The longer he runs his mouth, the deeper the hole he’s digging for himself becomes.

    Luckily for us, he will do none of the above.

  33. Mr. Bluster says:
  34. charon says:

    @michael reynolds:

    . If I were him I’d be talking to people on the Hill and to Mueller about a deal – resignation in return for no prosecution.

    And the New York Attorney General? Other state AG’s?

    Read more:

  35. michael reynolds says:

    That’s one of the reasons I don’t see how he avoids exposure at the least, and possibly prison.

    He’s a really incompetent criminal. Speaking as an ex-criminal myself, I would suggest you not start out by attacking the CIA, NSA, GCHQ, Justice Department and FBI. That’s like Page 1 of the Criminal’s Handbook. You just know that the whole Trump Crime Family is busy shredding documents and deleting files, because that always helps. We should be getting a leak on that on, oh, Monday or Tuesday maybe?

  36. al-Alameda says:


    Unbelievably stupid. I am literally having trouble believing someone could be this systematically stupid and self defeating.

    I’m beginning to believe: (1) Trump wanted to win the election, (2) he never thought he’d actually win, and (3) extreme hubris coupled with his vastly inflated sense of self make it impossible for him believe that he has to behave differently in order to govern the United States of America. He’s convinced that the force of his personality is sufficient.

    Deep down? He wanted to win, but not change jobs.