Mueller, For First Time Publicly, Nods To Cleric Flynn Allegedly Plotted To Remove

Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images North America

The sentencing memo that special counsel Robert Mueller filed Monday for Michael Flynn marked the first time in public filings that Mueller referenced a U.S.-based Turkish cleric who was the target of a kidnapping plot that the former National Security Advisor allegedly discussed with Turkish officials in 2016.

Flynn last year admitted to filing a false foreign lobbying form that omitted the Turkish government’s role in a pro-Turkey lobbying project he was working on. The forms falsely claimed he had written a 2016 op-ed on his own initiative, rather than under the direction of Turkish officials, Flynn admitted then, as part of his plea deal with Mueller in December 2017.

The new sentencing memo, however, goes into much more detail than the 2017 plea documents about those false statements, for which Mueller did not bring charges against Flynn under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.

Some of those details are about what Flynn disclosed on the March 2017 filing forms, which were publicly available as soon as they were filed. However, Mueller also thought it was useful for the judge who will be sentencing Flynn to know more about the op-ed, which was published in The Hill on Election Day 2016, and specifically the context of its calls for a cleric to be removed. Mueller does not specifically name the cleric, but Flynn was referring to Fethullah Gulen.

“The defendant’s false statements impeded the ability of the public to learn about the Republic of Turkey’s efforts to influence public opinion about the failed coup, including its efforts to effectuate the removal of a person legally residing in the United States,” Mueller’s filing said.

In the weeks before Flynn and Mueller’s plea deal was unveiled, the Wall Street Journal reported that Mueller was investigating Flynn’s role in an alleged scheme to “forcibly remove” Gulen from the U.S. and turn him over to the Turkish government. Turkish representatives were offering Flynn and his son Michael Flynn Jr., who works with the retired general at his consulting firm, up to $15 million under the the alleged proposal, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Earlier, in March 2017, the Journal reported that Flynn and former CIA Director James Woolsey met with Turkish officials in New York in September 2016, while Flynn was a top adviser to the Trump campaign, to discuss the removal of Gulen. Woolsey described the idea as “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away,” but said the discussion did not go into the specifics of the plan. A Flynn spokesman told the Journal that at “no time” did Flynn “discuss any illegal actions, nonjudicial physical removal or any other such activities.”

In May 2017, on the same day Mueller was named special counsel on the Russia probe, the New York Times reported that Flynn was being investigated for his lobbying work for Turkey and that the investigation was being led by DOJ national security attorney Brandon Van Grack, who went on to join the Mueller team.

Along with the sentencing memo, Mueller on Tuesday filed an addendum with the judge that described Flynn’s cooperation with investigators. The filing indicated Flynn is assisting with at least two investigations beyond Mueller’s Russia probe. It is unclear if either of those investigations are related to the Turkey allegations, as the discussion of his assistance on those matters was redacted in the filing. Van Grack, who this fall left Mueller’s office to return to the DOJ national security division, is the top signatory on the two Tuesday night Mueller fillings.

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