Four short blocks from Trump Tower, at Manhattan’s elite “21” Club, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn reportedly met last December with representatives of the Turkish government.
According to sources quoted in The Wall Street Journal, they discussed apprehending a 77-year-old Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania and removing him to Turkey by private jet.
Flynn was then preparing to become President Donald Trump’s national security adviser.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has accused the cleric Fethullah Gulen of rabble-rousing and coup-plotting, and wanted him returned to face prison. Gulen, at least in the United States, has projected himself as a preacher of interfaith peace.
Last year, Flynn worked for pay for Turkish interests both before and after Trump won the election. The Journal reported Friday that special counsel Robert Mueller is probing the alleged plan — which it said called for paying Flynn and his son as much as $15 million.
Mueller has filed no charges so far and Flynn’s lawyers denied the report.
But there are several layers to the politics that link Flynn, Trump, Mueller, Gulen and Erdogan:
- Individuals and organizations linked to Gulen, who lives on an estate in Pennsylvania, have contributed to Hillary Clinton (as well as to several Republicans). Gulen also drew public acclaim from former President Bill Clinton in 2008. So Gulen has appeared to be tentatively allied with one side of the American partisan divide, Erdogan with the other.
- Flynn, a loyal campaigner for Trump, also had intriguing Russian contacts, explored by Mueller. Officials have publicly confirmed Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with the nation’s ambassador, also in December, despite earlier denials.
- Former FBI Director James Comey — whose firing by Trump in May led to Mueller’s appointment — has sworn that Trump pulled him aside at the White House in February and said he hoped he could drop the pending investigation of Flynn.
- While heaping public scorn on Comey, Trump has effusively praised Erdogan. “We have a great friendship as countries and I think we’re right now as close as we’ve ever been,” Trump said in September. Trump said Erdogan is “running a very difficult part of the world. He has evolved very strongly, and frankly he’s getting very high marks.”
- Flynn was fired in 2014 as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the Obama administration. His Trump alliance last year represented his chance to regain government power and position. But he was fired three weeks into Trump’s term, purportedly for misleading Vice President Mike Pence on the matter of a Russian contact.