Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s brief attempt at cashing in on his role as a Trump adviser has resulted in two of his business associates being indicted, while revealing more details on Flynn’s work for Turkish government officials while he was also advising Trump’s campaign.
The indictment of Bijan Kian and Ekim Alptekin on charges for failing to register as foreign agents and making false statements shed light on the Ankara-backed lobbying campaign that was aimed primarily at extraditing Turkish preacher Fetullah Gulen to Turkey, where he stands accused of organizing a July 2016 coup attempt.
Here’s what we learned:
Flynn first triggered attention from the Justice Department after writing a Nov. 8, 2016 op-ed in The Hill titled “Our Ally Turkey Is In Crisis And Needs Our Support,” in which the former Defense Intelligence Agency director advocated for Gulen’s removal from the U.S., calling him a “radical cleric.”
Kian — in consultation with Turkish officials — drafted parts of the op-ed, the indictment alleges. Prosecutors trace a line comparing the Ayatollah Khomenei’s pre-revolutionary days meditating under an “apple tree” in France to Gulen’s spiritual refuge in Pennsylvania from an Aug. 4 email that Kian sent Flynn to the final draft, published in November.
The op-ed raised alarm bells at the time, particularly given Flynn’s soon-to-be official role as national security adviser. The indictment says that the Justice Department contacted Flynn about the Nov. 8 op-ed, asking whether he and others had “an obligation to register as an agent of a foreign government.”
The same Aug. 4 email thread in which Kian proposed the “apple tree” line allegedly features a broader discussion about starting a project called the “Truth Campaign.”
In the purported messages, Alptekin tries to use Flynn to gain access to the Obama-era State Department, writing him, “Do we know anyone on [John Kerry]’s team?”
The discussions revolved around signing an agreement with Flynn Intel Group, a private consulting and lobbying company that Flynn owns.
Alptekin allegedly demanded a 20 percent cut of the total $600,000 fee provided to Flynn Intel Group, which prosecutors characterize as a “kickback.”
Publicly, the client for Flynn’s company would be registered as a Dutch company, but in reality, the money was coming from the Turkish government, the indictment says.
Alptekin and Kian purportedly changed the name of the project from “Truth Campaign” to “Operation Confidence,” adding that using the “apple tree” anecdote to compare Gulen to the Ayatollah would be a key part of the initiative’s “playbook,” per the indictment
Woolsey and the Turks
The campaign led to a meeting on Sept. 19 between Flynn, Kian, Alptekin, former CIA Director James Woolsey, and two Turkish government ministers: Foreign minister Mevlet Cavusoglu and energy minister (and Erdogan son-in-law) Berat Albayrak.
The indictment alleges that conversation at the meeting “centered on [Gulen] and the Turkish government’s efforts to convince the U.S. government to extradite the Turkish citizen to Turkey.”
Afterwards, the indictment says, Kian and others began a lobbying campaign to convince Congress and the State Department that Gulen was “a threat who should be returned to Turkey.”
Orders from Ankara
Throughout the project, the indictment alleges, Alptekin would hold weekly phone calls with Flynn and would then report back and consult with the Turkish government.
All of this occurred during the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign, with Flynn allegedly taking phone calls on “whether the Turkish officials were satisfied” in the weeks leading up to the election.
Those discussions culminated in the op-ed’s publication on Nov. 8.
“This is a very high profile exposure one day before the election,” Kian emailed Alptekin, before the opinion piece’s publication.
The DOJ opened an investigation into Flynn’s company after the op-ed was published. Flynn Intel Group hired law firm Covington and Burling to investigate whether it was obligated to register as a foreign agent under FARA.
Kian and Alptekin then allegedly lied to the law firm conducting the investigation, leading to a false FARA report that was filed in March 2017.
Their alleged lies are the same that Flynn copped to in his December 2017 plea agreement.