Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied knowing that former national security adviser Michael Flynn lobbied on behalf of Turkey and allegedly discussed with Turkish officials the possibility of kidnapping of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric while serving on the Trump campaign.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) grilled Sessions on his awareness of Flynn’s Turkey dealings in a taut exchange during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing Tuesday.
The California representative first asked Sessions, who oversaw the Trump campaign’s foreign policy team, if he knew either before or after the 2016 election about Flynn’s lobbying work to discredit Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. The attorney general said he didn’t “believe” he ever obtained such information.
Lofgren then moved on to two 2016 meetings Flynn reportedly had with Turkish government ministers to discuss the forcible removal of Gulen, who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes orchestrated a failed July 2016 coup attempt against him.
“I’ve read that in the paper recently, but I don’t recall ever being made aware of that before this recent release in the paper,” Sessions said of Flynn’s conversations.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday on an alleged December 2016 meeting in which Flynn was offered $15 million to successfully evacuate Gulen. Flynn’s lawyer strenuously denied the Journal’s report. The newspaper first broke the news of these discussions back in March with a report on a separate September 2016 meeting Flynn held with Turkish representatives on the same topic.
Flynn’s work on behalf of foreign governments is under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to the Journal and NBC News.
Sessions did acknowledge to Lofgren that extraditing Gulen remained one of Turkey’s highest priorities.
“I’m aware that the Turkish government continued to press the federal government with regard to seeking the return of Mr. Gulen to Turkey,” Sessions said. “And our department had a role to play in that though I’m not at liberty to discuss the details of that.”
NBC has reported that Trump administration officials asked the FBI to conduct a new review of the Gulen situation after inauguration, but that the FBI denied it because Turkey provided no new evidence to bolster its case.