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Donald Trump

Trump’s ex-security adviser Flynn investigated over alleged plot to seize Muslim cleric and return him to Turkey for US$15m

Mike Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jnr, were to be paid as much as US$15 million to help seize Fethullah Gulen and deliver him to Turkish officials, The Wall Street Journal reported

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 November, 2017, 3:47pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 November, 2017, 10:45pm

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating an alleged plan in which former White House national security adviser Mike Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jnr, were to be paid as much as US$15 million in a plot to seize Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and deliver him to Turkish officials, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

FBI agents have asked at least four people about a meeting in mid-December where Flynn and Turkish government representatives allegedly discussed capturing Gulen, who’s in exile in the US, the newspaper said, citing people familiar with the FBI’s inquiries who were not identified. At the time, President-elect Donald Trump had already announced that Flynn, a top campaign supporter and foreign policy aide, would serve as the White House national security adviser.

The investigation into Flynn is part of Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump campaign advisers colluded in Russian interference into the 2016 US election. Investigators are also looking into whether Flynn’s work on behalf of Turkey violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires people to disclose work for foreign governments.

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“Out of respect for the process of the various investigations regarding the 2016 campaign, we have intentionally avoided responding to every rumour or allegation raised in the media,” Flynn’s lawyers Robert Kelner, Stephen Anthony and Brian Smith said in a statement. “But today’s news cycle has brought allegations about General Flynn, ranging from kidnapping to bribery, that are so outrageous and prejudicial that we are making an exception to our usual rule: they are false.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded the extradition of his arch-enemy Gulen, blaming him for a 2016 coup attempt allegedly orchestrated from the US. Turkey has failed to provide sufficient evidence for a judge to approve extradition, according to US officials.

A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment on the reported inquiry into a plot to seize Gulen.

The alleged December meeting followed one on September 19 attended by people including Berat Albayrak, who is Turkey’s energy minister and the son-in-law of Erdogan, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, according to the Journal. It was then that Turkish officials first raised the possibility of forcibly removing Gulen, according to the report.

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Flynn’s talks with Turkish officials allegedly involved a plan to forcibly take Gulen, who lives in a compound in Pennsylvania, to a private jet and fly him to the Turkish prison island of Imrali, the Journal reported, citing a person it did not name. There was no indication any money was exchanged as part of that plan, it said.

“We don’t have any evidence that such a meeting took place,” the newspaper quoted a spokesman for the Trump transition process as saying. “And if it did take place it happened notwithstanding the transition.”

Flynn resigned as Trump’s national security adviser on February 13, after only 24 days on the job. In his resignation letter he apologised to the president for giving “incomplete information” about his interactions with the Russian ambassador to the US.

Participation in an effort to snatch Gulen in the US could expose Flynn to an assortment of federal charges. If prosecutors can prove Flynn and his associates took concrete steps to act on such a plan, it could result in charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping even though Gulen was not abducted, said Patrick Cotter, a Chicago defence lawyer and former federal prosecutor.

Flynn could even face charges of violating counter-espionage laws if prosecutors established he was accepting undisclosed payments at the same time he was receiving classified security briefings as part of the Trump transition, Cotter said.

“The disclosure law is designed to separate legitimate foreign lobbyists from spies,” Cotter said. “Because when you get down to it, if you’re a foreign agent being paid by a foreign government and no one knows it, you’re a spy.”