The story of former Lt. General Mike Flynn is one of the more unfortunate ones in this saga. He is highly decorated with 22 medals or ribbons who served in Iraq and Afghanistan in the field of intelligence. He was well-respected and leaders on the ground said his work was indispensable in capturing al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and insurgents in Iraq. In September 2011, he was promoted to deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and in April 2012, Obama elevated him to become the 18th director of the DIA. Known for his strong views coupled with a reputation as an achiever, Flynn was not particularly well-liked within the Washington intelligence community, particularly by CIA director John Brennan.
The director of the DIA serves a two-year term, but Flynn’s term was not extended in 2014 as had been the custom. Some reports claimed that he constantly butted heads with others in the intelligence community and Colin Powell claimed he heard that Flynn was abusive towards his staff. There were also complaints that he played loose with the truth on certain topics which led to an internal IC joke about “Flynn facts.” But probably what most irked the Obama administration IC establishment was his belief that Islamic terrorism was not being taken seriously by the administration and he viewed the US as less safe against such attacks than at any time since 9/11.
Before he left his post as head of the DIA, Flynn said that his intelligence sources were warning the administration of the dangers of toppling the Assad regime in Syria and that there was a growing radical Islamic terrorist movement in that country and also that Turkey was turning a blind eye to it. One former DIA official, W. Patrick Lang, confirmed this and said the Obama administration constantly pushed back against Flynn’s warnings and became disenchanted with Flynn because he would not go away quietly. He was bucking the administration’s line that terrorists were on the run. He publicly broke from Obama’s line of argument. Obama had described ISIS as a terrorist “JV team.” When the leader of ISIS, Ahmed al-Baghadi, established a caliphate centered in Mosul that encompassed wide swaths of Iraq and Syria, Flynn had his “I told you so” moment, especially after the atrocities at the hands of ISIS were vividly documented.
The Obama administration essentially declared al-Qaeda dead after the capture and killing of Osama bin-Laden, but Flynn warned that they would simply reconstitute and develop into something else, another fact proven true as the Al Nusra front in Syria had done just that. This was another point of disagreement with the administration. He was calling out the foot-dragging and naivete of the Obama administration.
After leaving the DIA, he formed the Flynn Intel Group along with his son. It provided intelligence information for businesses and governments. Some have pointed to the fact that the company represented some Russian businesses, but there is nothing necessarily nefarious about that. The company also worked as a lobbyist for some Turkish interests.
In December 2015, Flynn went to Russia as a private citizen to attend a 10th anniversary gala for the Russian media outlet, RT. Before attending, he was given a “protective and defensive” briefing by the IC since also in attendance would be Putin and Sergei Kislyak. Such briefings are held to make people aware of the possibility of being drilled by Russians in order to gain information that may be sensitive or classified, and are generally routine. Upon his return to the US, he was debriefed by IC officials over several meetings and the information gleaned from Flynn was later described as “moderately useful.”
Given Flynn’s cooperation in this matter, it becomes difficult to see how anyone could reach the conclusion that Flynn was somehow involved in collusion with the Russians on behalf of the Trump campaign. At this time, Trump and Flynn had only an informal relationship. One possibility is that also in attendance at that dinner was the Maltese professor, Joseph Mifsud. He ran in the same circles with Stephan Halper who, in 2014 at an event in London, made the accusation that Flynn was having an extramarital affair with a woman named Lokhova who Halper suspected was a Russian spy attempting to recruit Flynn. Halper made the accusation that after the dinner event in London, Flynn drove Lokhova home in his car, although this was patently false since Lokhova, a graduate student in London and of Russian descent, was picked up after the dinner by her husband. Lokhova later sued Halper over the accusation, but the case was dismissed.
With the 2016 election cycle gearing up, several of the GOP candidates sought out Flynn for foreign policy advice. Among them were Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Ted Cruz. However, Flynn seemed to hit it off the most with Trump. By this time, Trump had introduced the phrase “drain the swamp” into the political lexicon. Trump viewed “the swamp” as consisting of unelected bureaucrats, consultants and contractors who were deeply involved in policy formation and bilking taxpayers of money. Trump’s view of “the swamp” was largely theoretical, but Flynn had intimate knowledge of how “the swamp” worked and who the “swamp creatures” were. As a result, the two hit it off and Flynn, outside Trump’s family members, became one of his closest advisers.
Then Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. As is customary for the president-elect, he met with the outgoing president two days later in the White House. Of all the important topics to discuss with Trump, Obama seemed fixated on Michael Flynn and warned Trump about naming him to his administration. With rumors circulating throughout Washington on who Trump would pick for his cabinet, the name Michael Flynn emerged. He was not an unknown entity in the press and as early as May, 2016, after Trump secured the nomination and had not yet chosen Mike Pence as a running mate, CNN even profiled Flynn as a possible Vice-Presidential choice.
On December 3rd, the New York Times ran a disparaging profile on Flynn characterizing him as fixated on a never-ending war against Islamic terrorism. Flynn, although accused of being in some conspiracy with the Russians, was naming Russia as a co-conspirator with Islamic terrorists.
Most of that article on Flynn was recycled information from a joint statement issued by liberal allies of Obama like J Street and MoveOn.org which urged against any role for Flynn in the administration citing his ties to Turkey and his alleged stance against Muslims based on a book Flynn published. Flynn’s book became a target where passages were taken out of context and posted on social media. One such group was the liberal Lawfare blog.
It was also in this early December time period when revelations that the Obama administration spied on Israeli politicians and Jewish groups in the United States started to be known. It was a subtle shift in the narrative about opposition to the JCPOA where former “Israel-firsters” were quietly becoming “Russian agents.” This again makes little sense since Russia was behind the deal, not opposed to it.
Regarding the Turkish connection, in July 2016 there was an attempted coup against Recip Erdogan whom Turkish leaders suspected was instigated by Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic mullah living in exile in the United States. Obama had refused Turkish requests to extradite Gulen. Gulen and several of his associates were donors to the Clinton Foundation.
After the 2016 election, The Hill published an op-ed connecting the Saudis, people from the UAE, Obama and the Clinton Foundation suggesting they worked in concert to topple Erdogan in Turkey. Although written by allies of Erdogan, the article was signed by Flynn. This would later form the basis of charges of illegal lobbying on behalf of the Turkish government by Flynn, charges pushed by Sally Yates, Andrew McCabe, and James Comey. Comey tasked Peter Strozk to interview him about the article. This formed the basis of the unregistered “foreign agent” charges against Flynn although at the time it was considered Russia for whom he was advocating. Instead, it was Turkey- a member of NATO- and Flynn was arguing that several Gulf states were attempting to topple the government of an ally.
Next: Smears and investigation