The Flynn Scandal Explodes: What This Means and How It Happened

A timeline of all the bizarre twists and turns.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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On Wednesday, not one but two bombshells exploded concerning Michael Flynn, the national security adviser President Donald Trump was compelled to fire after only 22 days on the job. The New York Times reported that on January 4—weeks before the inauguration—Flynn informed Trump’s transition team that he was under Justice Department investigation for his undisclosed lobbying work on behalf of Turkish interests. And McClatchy revealed that six days later, Flynn attended a meeting with Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, and asked her to delay a planned US-Kurdish military operation against a top ISIS target, an action that Turkey, which had opposed joint US-Kurdish operations, would not have supported.

Together these two stories present a stunning scenario: Trump’s team allowed a lobbyist for foreign interests who was under federal investigation to become the president’s top national security aide and to participate in decision-making related to his lobbying.

The story gets worse. It was 16 days after Flynn’s meeting with Rice that Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, informed the Trump White House that Flynn had lied about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak regarding the sanctions Obama imposed on Moscow for its covert intervention in the 2016 campaign. Yates also warned Don McGahn, the White House counsel, that Flynn was now vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Still, the White House kept Flynn in the job for another 18 days. It was only after the extent of Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak was publicly exposed by a Washington Post story that Trump fired him. (On Thursday morning, Yahoo News reported that on April 25, Flynn told a group of friends that Trump had recently sent him a message: Stay strong.)

Flynn, who has offered to testify before Congress if granted immunity from prosecution, has emerged as central figure in the Russia scandal enveloping the Trump administration. The retired lieutenant general who led “lock her up” chants during the presidential campaign is currently under investigation on several fronts. The Justice Department is probing his Turkish lobbying, and the FBI is investigating his contacts with Russian officials during the presidential campaign and transition period. The Senate intelligence committee recently subpoenaed Flynn for records of his Russian contacts.

The latest Flynn revelations are a tremendous blow for a White House already reeling from the Trump-Russia scandal, the news that Trump disclosed highly sensitive top-secret information to Russian officials in the Oval Office, Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey, and the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. The Flynn affair, which has the potential to derail Trump’s presidency, is full of twists and turns, and it seems like there’s more to come. Here’s how it has unfolded so far.

April 30, 2014: Flynn announces his retirement form the military about a year earlier then expected. He has reportedly been forced out as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency by the Obama administration. Flynn subsequently forms the Flynn Intel Group.

October 8, 2014: The counsel’s office of the Defense Intelligence Agency responds to an inquiry from Flynn about ethics restrictions that will apply to him after his Army retirement. The office explains in a letter that he can not receive foreign government payments without prior approval, due to the Constitution’s emoluments clause. “If you are ever in a position where you would receive an emolument from a foreign government or from an entity that might be controlled by a foreign government, be sure to obtain advance approval from the Army prior to acceptance,” the letter states.

December 10, 2015: Flynn travels to Moscow to attend the 10th anniversary dinner of Russia Today, a media outlet owned by the Russian government. Flynn is paid more than $30,000 to speak at the event and is seated next to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

February 2016: Flynn begins advising the Trump campaign.

July 18, 2016: During his speech at the Republican National Convention, Flynn eggs on the chanting crowd, saying, “Lock her up, that’s right. Yep, that’s right: Lock her up!”

August 9, 2016: Flynn and his company, the Flynn Intel Group, ink a $600,000 contract with Inovo BV, a company owned by Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman and ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to the New York Times, the contract calls for Flynn’s company to “run an influence campaign aimed at discrediting Fethullah Gulen, an reclusive cleric who lives in Pennsylvania and whom Mr. Erdogan has accused of orchestrating a failed [July 2016] coup in Turkey.”

August 17, 2016: Trump receives his first classified intelligence briefing as the GOP nominee for president. He brings Flynn with him to the meeting, which includes discussion of the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was interfering in the US election.

November 8, 2016: On Election Day, Flynn publishes an op-ed in the Hill that calls Gulen “a shady Islamic mullah” and “a radical Islamist.”

November 10, 2016: During a meeting at Trump Tower with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Flynn says he wants the national security adviser post in the new administration, NBC News reports. Kushner and Trump indicate that “President-elect Trump would certainly approve of that request to reward Flynn’s loyalty,” according to NBC. That day, Trump meets with Obama in the Oval Office, where Obama warns him against hiring Flynn.

November 11, 2016: The Daily Caller reveals Flynn’s contract with Inovo BV.

November 2016: “Days after” seeing the Daily Caller story, according to the New York Times, Trump campaign lawyer William McGinley holds a conference call with members of Flynn Intel Group to gather more information about its foreign business dealings.

November 17, 2016: Trump names Flynn as his national security adviser.

November 30, 2016: The Justice Department notifies Flynn in a letter that it is investigating his Turkish lobbying work.

December 2016: Flynn and Kushner meet with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower. Kislyak was not caught on tape entering the building, suggesting that he may have been brought in through a back entrance.

December 29, 2016: Obama announces sanctions against Russia in response to that country’s interference in the US presidential election. The measure includes the ejection of 35 Russian diplomats from the United States; the closure of Cold War-era Russian compounds in New York and Maryland; and sanctions against the GRU and the FSB (Russian intelligence agencies), four employees of those agencies, and three companies that worked with the GRU. Flynn holds five phone calls with Kislyak that day, during which they at some point discuss US sanctions against Russia. (White House press secretary Sean Spicer later claims falsely that they held just one call, in which they merely discussed “logistical information.”)

January 2017: The FBI begins investigating Flynn’s December phone conversations with Kislyak.

January 4, 2017: Flynn tells McGahn, who at the time was the transition team’s top lawyer, that he is under investigation for failing to disclose his work as a lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign.

January 6, 2017: Flynn’s attorney and transition team lawyers hold another discussion about the investigation involving Flynn.

January 10: According to McClatchy, Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, informs Flynn of the Pentagon’s plan to use Syrian Kurdish forces to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital, Raqqa. Flynn asks Rice to delay the operation, a position that “conformed to the wishes of Turkey.”

January 15, 2017: In an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation, Vice President-elect Mike Pence says Flynn told him that he did not discuss US sanctions during his conversations with Kislyak.

January 23, 2017: Spicer holds his first White House press briefing. He insists that Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak included no discussion of US sanctions.

January 24, 2017: The FBI interviews Flynn about his phone conversations with Kislyak. Flynn reportedly denies having discussed US sanctions on Russia.

January 26, 2017: Yates, the acting attorney general, informs McGahn—who by then was the White House counsel—that Flynn had discussed US sanctions on Russia with the Kislyak, despite Flynn’s claims to the contrary. Yates also warns McGahn that as a result, Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail. McGahn subsequently informs Trump of Yates’ report.

January 27, 2017: Yates and McGahn meet again at the White House.

January: Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, meets at a Manhattan hotel with Felix Sater and a pro-Putin Ukrainian lawmaker to discuss a potential peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, according to the New York Times. The Times reports that Cohen delivered this plan to Flynn. Cohen confirms he met with Sater and the Ukrainian lawmaker but denies that they discussed a Ukraine-Russia peace plan or that he delivered such a plan to Flynn or the White House.

February 1, 2017: In a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis, the ranking Democrats on six House committees demand an investigation into Flynn’s connections to RT.

February 8, 2017: In an interview with the Washington Post, Flynn denies discussing US sanctions with Kislyak.

February 9, 2017: A spokesman for Flynn softens the national security adviser’s denial, telling the Washington Post that “while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

February 10, 2017: Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump says he is not aware of reports that Flynn has discussed US sanctions with Kislyak. He has in fact been aware of Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak since late January. His transition team has known Flynn was under Justice Department investigation for more than a month.

February 13, 2017: Flynn resigns following reports that Yates warned the White House that Flynn had misled senior members of the administration, including Pence, about whether he discussed US sanctions with Kislyak.

February 14, 2017: In an Oval Office meeting with Comey, Trump asks the FBI director to drop the bureau’s investigation of Flynn. “I hope you can let this go,” Trump says, according to a two-page memo of the conversation reportedly drafted by Comey.

February 15, 2017: During a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump does not answer a question about potential connections between his campaign and Russia during the election. He blames Flynn’s ouster on leaks. This is a different position than the one taken by the White House previously: that Flynn was asked to resign because he misled Pence about his communication with the Russian ambassador.

March 7, 2017: Flynn retroactively registers as a foreign agent in connection with his Turkish lobbying work.

March 30, 2017: The Wall Street Journal reports that Flynn has told the FBI and the congressional committees investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia that he will agree to be interviewed in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Flynn’s attorney says in a subsequent statement that the retired general “certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit.”

March 31, 2017: Trump tweets that Flynn “should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!” But NBC reports that the Senate intelligence committee has denied Flynn’s request for immunity, telling Flynn’s lawyer the request was “wildly preliminary” and currently “not on the table.”

April 4, 2017: The Pentagon launches an investigation into Flynn for accepting payments from a foreign government without prior approval, in potential violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

April 25, 2017: Leaders of the House Oversight Committee tell reporters that Flynn may have broken the law by failing to disclose the $34,000 payment he received for speaking at the 2015 RT gala. “As a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey or anybody else,” committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) says. “And it appears as if he did take that money. It was inappropriate. And there are repercussions for the violation of law.” The same day, Trump apparently reached out of Flynn. “I just got a message from the president to stay strong,” Flynn tells a group of loyalists during a gathering at a restaurant in Northern Virginia, according to a later report from Yahoo News.

May 8, 2017: Ahead of a Senate hearing, where Yates will testify about her warnings to the Trump administration over Flynn, Trump appears to blame his hiring of Flynn on his predecessor: “General Flynn was given the highest security clearance by the Obama Administration – but the Fake News seldom likes talking about that,” Trump tweets.

May 9, 2017: Trump fires Comey. CNN reports that day that the US attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia, has issued grand jury subpoenas to Flynn associates.

May 10, 2017: The Senate intelligence committee subpoenas Flynn for documents concerning his communications with Russian officials.

May 16, 2017: The New York Times reports that Trump pressured Comey to end the bureau’s investigation into Flynn, according to the then-FBI director’s notes of their meeting.

May 17, 2017: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appoints former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the Trump-Russia investigation.

May 18, 2017: Trump tweets:


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