The U.S. government has extensive evidence that the Turkish government attempted to influence President Trump’s 2016 campaign through adviser Michael Flynn, according to a statement read in Alexandria federal court Friday.
The statement from prosecutors indicated that the government has “multiple, independent pieces of information related to the Turkish government’s efforts to influence United States policy,” including on an exiled cleric Turkey would like to see extradited. It was read aloud in court by an attorney for Flynn’s former business partner, Bijan Rafiekian.
The information reportedly shows a businessman with close ties to the Turkish government engaged with Flynn “because of Michael Flynn’s relationship with an ongoing presidential campaign.”
Rafiekian is scheduled to go on trial next week on charges that he illegally lobbied for Turkey while working with Flynn, with the help of Dutch-Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin. According to the prosecutors’ statement, however, the government has collected evidence that Turkey cultivated a relationship between Alptekin and Flynn that did not relate to Rafiekian or their firm, the Flynn Intel Group.
There were no details offered on the information. Defense attorney Mark MacDougall argued unsuccessfully that the government should be forced to share even sensitive classified information if it could help exonerate his client.
The revelation hints at how a foreign government sought to influence Trump’s campaign around the 2016 election, suggesting Turkey’s outreach to Flynn was part of a purposeful effort to buy influence with the new president.
Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, admitted in 2017 to lying to the government about his engagement with both Russian and Turkish interests during the campaign and presidential transition. Until last week he was expected to be the star witness against his former business partner, with whom he was paid to push for the expulsion from the U.S. of dissident cleric Fethullah Gulen.
But after over a year of cooperation with the Justice Department in hopes of a lenient sentence in his own criminal case, prosecutors said they no longer trust Flynn’s version of events and will not call him to the stand. His new legal team, led by Justice Department critic Sidney Powell, claims the government is trying to get Flynn to lie and retaliating against him for refusing.
Through his new lawyers, Flynn contends he never intentionally lied about the role of the Turkish government in the Gulen campaign and merely signed flawed but “substantially accurate” documents without reading them first.
Powell maintains Flynn is still cooperating and deserves credit for helping the government craft a prosecution his defense team now suggests is flawed.
“Should the government’s case here fail, it will not be because of anything Mr. Flynn did or did not do,” Flynn’s attorneys wrote. “The fault will lie at the feet of the prosecutors themselves and choices made by former counsel.”
They are referencing lawyers at Covington & Burling, who represented Flynn until last month, when he hired Powell. Covington oversaw both Flynn’s retroactive registration as a foreign agent and his guilty plea in federal court in the District, during which he admitted that his Foreign Agent Registration Act filing was based on false statements.
His sentencing in D.C. federal court was put on hold so that he could cooperate in Virginia.
Now, Flynn’s lawyers are joining Rafiekian in openly questioning the merits of the Virginia prosecution. Flynn has been labeled by the government a “co-conspirator,” and prosecutors could change their recommendation that he be sentenced to probation instead of jail time in his D.C. case.
When asked for comment on the case, Covington and Burling said they could not discuss issues involving clients.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James P. Gillis said in court Friday there are “volumes of evidence to support the charges” even without Flynn.
Notes taken by Flynn’s defense team and made public Thursday show contentious interactions with prosecutors as Flynn was prepped for Rafiekian’s trial in late June.
As prosecutors begin to walk Flynn through his expected testimony, Powell steps in asking, “Where the hell is your case?” She questions whether someone should go to “prison for 15 years for writing [an] op-ed.”
It was an op-ed drafted by Rafiekian but published under Flynn’s name in the Hill newspaper the day before the presidential election that led the Justice Department to question whether he was working as an unregistered agent for Turkey.
Another of Flynn’s new attorneys tells prosecutors the former general “did not intentionally make false statements” about the Turkey project, he simply “gave the information to his lawyers and figured they would get it right.”
Prosecutor Brandon Van Grack, who oversees Flynn’s D.C. case and the Justice Department unit tasked with enforcing FARA violations, says it is the “first time” he is hearing that Flynn doesn’t believe he was “willfully” or “knowingly” lying to his former attorneys. He points out Flynn “did not say anything” when he went before Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who accepted his guilty plea in the District.
“This is the language your client agreed to,” Van Grack says.
“What he believes to be true — it is difficult for us to believe that,” adds Gillis.
He suggests notes from Flynn’s interviews with his Covington attorneys would back up that understanding. Powell says she has seen no such notes.
Handwritten notes from Flynn’s former attorneys that she handed over to prosecutors do include the line “Lot of emails say Mike is in charge,” followed by “lied in meeting with us.”
Who is accused of lying is unclear.
Rosalind S. Helderman conributed to this report.