House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said Tuesday it appears that President Trump’s former national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, broke the law and received money from Russia.
“As a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey, or anybody else,” Chaffetz said in a joint statement with ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings on CNN. “And it appears as if he did take that money. It was inappropriate, and there are repercussions for the violation of law.”
“If that money was received by General Flynn — and we believe that it was — that money needs to be recovered,” he said.
The conclusion by both House Oversight Committee leaders that there was unlawful behavior comes after they reviewed classified memos and Flynn’s financial disclosures in a private briefing on Tuesday, according to the Washington Post.
Cummings called the documents “extremely troubling” and said he believed they should be declassified, according to a prepared statement.
In receiving payments from Russia, Flynn may have violated at least two laws.
When completing his SF 86 form in January 2016 — a questionnaire required by all those applying to renew national security clearance — Flynn failed to disclose foreign payments he received for his trip to Russia in 2015, according to a Cummings’ statement.
The failure to disclose the “material fact” that Flynn received payment could be considered a violation of U.S. Code Title 18 Section 1001, which states “that knowingly falsifying or concealing a material fact is a felony which may result in fines and/or up to five years imprisonment.”
And as a retired military officer, Flynn likely can’t receive foreign payments at all. The Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits any person “holding an Office of Profit or Trust” from receiving payments from a foreign country, which clause includes retired military officers, according to a clarification from the Department of Defense in 2013.
The House Oversight Committee called for an investigation into a “potentially serious violation” of the Emoluments Clause by Flynn back in February, but Trump’s White House has denied the committee’s request to provide documents on Flynn related to his security clearance and foreign payments.
In March, a few weeks after Flynn resigned amid scandal over his Russia ties, he offered to testify to the House and Senate committees investigating the Russian interference in last year’s presidential election in exchange for immunity.
“General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should circumstances permit,” his lawyer said. The Senate committee denied the request at the time, saying it was premature. While it’s unknown if Flynn’s “story” would be relevant to the committees’ investigations, the latest revelation shows why immunity could be very valuable to Flynn.
Flynn resigned from the Trump administration after only 23 days following revelations that he had discussed the Obama administration’s sanctions against Russia with the country’s ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump’s inauguration.
Trump administration officials including Vice President Mike Pence had backed up Flynn’s claim he did not discuss sanctions with Kislyak. But Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak was picked up by the intelligence community and contradicted Flynn’s public account.
President Trump ultimately asked for Flynn’s resignation, saying he had lied to the vice president.
Update 4/25/17 4:55 p.m. ET: This story has been updated to reflect the laws behind Flynn’s alleged violations.