White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Friday swatted away a swarm of questions on what the Trump administration knew and when about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s foreign lobbying ties, insisting that the President did not know Flynn had lobbied for Turkish interests.
“This was a personal matter, a business matter, not something appropriate for a government entity,” Spicer said.
The Associated Press on Friday reported that Flynn’s personal lawyers told Trump’s transition team that he might need to register as a foreign agent with the Justice Department because of work he did for a Turkish businessman’s company that may have benefitted the Turkish government. Trump campaign lawyer- turned-White House counsel Don McGahn was among those informed, according to the AP.
Yet in a Thursday press briefing, Spicer said that Trump was not aware of Flynn’s lobbying work when he was selected for his role.
Asked to account for the AP report, he noted Friday that Flynn only filed papers registering as a foreign agent two days ago, and that it was not the government’s responsibility to tell a “citizen” what actions to take.
Spicer’s response came out as something of a word salad: “If you’re [sic] asked a government lawyer what you should do in your private capacity as a citizen, they’re going to tell you you should consult experts in that area to determine what you should or should not do.”
The White House spokesman repeatedly said that the President was never informed about Flynn’s lobbying work, and denied that Flynn’s attorney’s warning that the future national security adviser might need to register as a foreign agent was a red flag.
“It is not up to nor is it appropriate nor is it legal for the government to start going into private citizens, seeking advice and telling them what they have to register or not,” he said.
New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush repeatedly pressed Spicer to move beyond the “legalisms” and answer what Flynn’s appointment said about the administration’s “judgment.” As Thrush pointed out, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) wrote a letter to Vice President Mike Pence in November informing him that Flynn’s work may have benefitted Turkish interests.
In response, Spicer defended the reputation of Flynn, who was forced to resign after misleading Pence about conversations he had regarding sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the transition.
“[Flynn is] unbelievably qualified, 40 years in the military with impeccable credentials,” he said, accusing Thrush of trying to “impugn his integrity.”
Asked if he was concerned that other members of the administration could also be working on behalf of foreign governments, Spicer said he believed everybody in the administration has “done what is legally required of them.”