Former national security adviser Michael Flynn in June 2019.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn in June 2019. Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky

Attorney General William Barr has raised a rare white flag on behalf of the Justice Department. Last week he moved to ditch the department's prosecution of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who'd pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. The Flynn case generated years of paranoid bluster, pressure and suggestions of pardons from President Donald Trump.

One glaring issue is left unclear. Flynn was working for foreign interests all through the 2016 presidential campaign, right up until his ill-fated appointment as the president's first national security adviser. To this day, there remains no full explanation from Trump or Congress of why his paid work for Turkey raised no concerns. Flynn was picked over more qualified GOP and military loyalists. He did not have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Only after Trump fired him in 2017, purportedly for lying to Vice President Mike Pence over Russia contacts, did Flynn file a letter with the Justice Department, saying his lobbying firm's engagement with a foreign client "could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey."

Flynn made the disclosure retroactively under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Former special counsel Robert Mueller later cracked down on FARA violations by others. Mueller's report, however, focused on the Trump campaign's numerous Russia contacts and their fallout and dealt only tangentially with Turkey's influence.

It was never a secret that Flynn fronted for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The day Trump was elected, Nov. 8, 2016, Flynn published an opinion piece hailing Erdogan as a great ally of the U.S. and calling for action against Erdogan's foe Fetulleh Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania. "We should not provide him safe haven," Flynn wrote. "In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are." Without evidence, Erdogan has long blamed Gulen for a failed coup to oust him.

Accepting pay to take sides in a foreign rivalry usually doesn't stand out as a qualification for a U.S. national security position. But while pushing Erdogan's agenda, Flynn campaigned vigorously for Trump, leading chants before the Republican National Convention and, of course, looking to fault Democrats on Islamic terrorism.

Curiously, Flynn only months earlier was practically endorsing the faction of the Turkish military that tried to carry out a coup against Erdogan, who Flynn, in a videotaped speech in Cleveland, said was trying to "move toward Islamism."

"This is Turkey under Erdogan — who is actually very close to President Obama," Flynn said during the speech.

"If the military succeeds," Flynn said, "one of the things that the military immediately said is, 'We recognize our responsibilities with NATO, we recognize our responsibilities with the United Nations, we want to make sure that the world knows, we are, we want to be seen as a secular nation.’ ”

The audience cheered. "That is worth clapping for," Flynn said. But about two months later, a Dutch company headed by a man with ties to Erdogan's government hired Flynn's intelligence firm. Suddenly in Flynn's world, Erdogan was the good guy and Gulen the target. Months afterward, Flynn became national security adviser. He lasted less than a month into Trump's tenure.