Trump Aide Met Turkish Officials During Campaign, Admits Lobbying

Former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn. (Photo: AP)

Gen. Michael T. Flynn was the shortest-lived White House national security adviser ever. He had to resign last month for misleading the White House over his contacts with Russian officials. It appears that contact with Russians is not the only headache for Gen. Flynn, who worked as a campaign surrogate for President Donald J. Trump.

On July 15, 2016, when a group of generals in the Turkish military attempted to overthrow the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr. Flynn argued that it was the revenge of the secular military after years of purges. The crowd listening to him cheered.

A month later, Flynn Intel Group, an advocacy group founded by Mr. Flynn, was hired by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, who is known to be close to the Turkish government, to carry out a three-month project that included preparing a video documentary on U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. He was pledged $600,000 for his efforts.

On Sept. 19, 2016, Mr. Alptekin arranged a meeting between representatives of Flynn Intel Group and a group of Turkish government officials in New York. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, also Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law, were among the Turkish delegation. This was the time when Mr. Flynn was campaigning for Mr. Trump and sitting in classified national security briefings with the candidate.

Mr. Flynn’s possible lobbying activities for Turkey came under the spotlight after he published an op-ed on The Hill on the Election Day, promoting Mr. Erdogan and calling Mr. Gulen a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” He asked the U.S. to hand over the cleric to Turkey.

Mr. Flynn was under fire for penning a propaganda piece for the Turkish government. Following a media frenzy that denounced his partnership with Mr. Alptekin, Mr. Flynn was forced to dump him. He was paid only $530,000 for his efforts.

Almost 7 months after Mr. Flynn started working for Mr. Alptekin, he decided to submit a Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) registration — required for lobbying for a foreign government. The filings on Tuesday showed that Mr. Flynn decided to retrospectively submit the documents to “eliminate any potential doubt” since his work on Mr. Gulen “could be construed to have principally benefitted the Republic of Turkey.” The cleric’s extradition is sought by the Turkish government.

According to the documents, Flynn Intel Group met with Turkish ministers back in September last year “for the purpose of understanding better the political climate in Turkey at the time,” as background for the video documentary project.

Mr. Alptekin previously rejected allegations that his firm represented the Turkish government. Flynn Intel Group said it “does not know whether or the extent to which the Republic of Turkey was involved with its retention by Inovo for the three-month project.” Mr. Flynn’s group, however, admitted that they are aware that Mr. Alptekin consulted with Turkish officials regarding Flynn Intel Group’s work.

The video documentary on Mr. Gulen, according to the filings, was never produced because Flynn Intel Group stopped working for Mr. Alptekin 7 days after the elections. S.G.R. LLC Government Relations and Lobbying, a PR firm working with Mr. Flynn, created a Gulen-themed monopoly graphic at the direction of Flynn Intel Group. But the monopoly was used in another op-ed authored by former U.S. lawmaker Denny Rehberg in an op-ed published on The Hill.

The Gulen-themed monopoly that was produced for Inovo.

Mr. Flynn said in the filings that the op-ed he wrote on The Hill on Election Day was not requested or directed by Inovo or the Turkish government. Mr. Flynn said, however, the draft of the op-ed was shared with Inovo in advance of the publication. Mr. Alptekin dismissed this claim as false.

“No changes, other than technical edits, were made to the op-ed based on feedback from Inovo,” Mr. Flynn’s filings showed.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Mr. Alptekin said the filings by Mr. Flynn were flawed. “Gen.Flynn never engaged in lobbying work for me or my firm. And I never lobbied or contracted lobbyist on behalf of the Turkish Government,” Mr. Alptekin said.

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