President Donald J. Trump‘s former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn’s tenure at the post lasted very short, only 23 days. But his controversial dealings during the presidential campaign period still haunts the Trump presidency, injecting a new layer of drama after Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III sought to obtain White House documents to unearth the full nature of Mr. Flynn’s ties to Turkey.
A report by The New York Times on Friday first mentioned that investigators from Mr. Mueller’s team are seeking to determine whether Mr. Flynn received any payment from the Turkish government as part of a campaign to discredit an arch-foe of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Flynn saga has never ceased casting a lingering cloud over the Trump presidency. Mr. Mueller’s sprawling investigation that now expands to financial dealings of the Trump family or his associates continues to keep the scandal-buffeted administration on edge.
At the center of the recent controversy lies a deal between retired Gen. Flynn and a Turkish-American businessman whom Mr. Mueller’s team suspects to be acting as a middleman for the Turkish government.
F.B.I. agents and prosecutors meticulously work to parse all details of the business relationship between Flynn Intel Group, a company that Mr. Flynn found after he was dismissed as Director of Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, and Inovo BV, a Dutch company owned by Ekim Apltekin, a close figure to President Erdogan.
Flynn Intel Group, a consulting agency, signed a deal with Inovo BV worth of $600,000, to launch a campaign to discredit Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric lives in Pennsylvania. The Turkish government ascribes blame on the U.S.-based cleric for an abortive coup last summer.
Ankara’s persistent push for extradition of Mr. Gulen went nowhere since the U.S. officials remained unconvinced by the Turkish efforts, and 80 dossiers of “evidence” sent to Washington, D.C. over the past year.
The core of the Mueller’s investigation is the suspicion that Mr. Flynn might have involved in kickbacks with Mr. Alptekin. The Inovo paid $530,000 to Mr. Flynn’s company.
But Mr. Flynn paid $80,000 in total back to Mr. Alptekin after two major payments he received, in a scheme that got the attention of the U.S. authorities.
The Flynn Intel Group paid $40,000 back to Inovo on Sept. 13, four days after it sent $200,000 to Mr. Flynn’s company as its first payout.
On Oct. 11, Inovo paid an additional $185,000 to the Flynn Intel Group. Less than a week later, the Flynn Intel Group returned $40,000 to the Dutch company.
Mr. Mueller and his investigators suspect that that could be a kickback scheme. The Mueller team is now investigating whether the Turkish government was behind the payments to Mr. Flynn and used Mr. Alptekin’s company as a cover.
But according to the Turkish-American businessman, Mr. Flynn’s payments to Inovo were refunds for the fact that the Flynn Intel Group did not complete its work.
“Ekim maintains that all payments and refunds were for unfulfilled work, and that they were legal, ethical and above board,” Molly Toomey, a spokeswoman for Mr. Alptekin, told The Times. She portrayed the refunds as a business decision.
Mr. Alptekin’s connections raised eyebrows in the U.S. given his close affinity to the Turkish president. The businessman serves as head of Turkish-American Business Council, a trade organization affiliated with the Turkish government.
Ty Cobb, special counsel to President Trump, played down the latest media revelations. “We’ve said before we’re collaborating with the special counsel on ongoing basis,” he said.
Mr. Flynn’s connections to Russia and Turkey have become a matter of political liability for Mr. Trump and triggered his premature departure from White House after he misled Vice President Mike Pence over his contacts with Russian ambassador in D.C.
His repeated efforts to mislead F.B.I., Justice Department and his cabinet landed him in a legally hazardous situation, creating an unresolved quandary for him.
President Trump fired F.B.I. Director James Comey in early May, prompting appointment of Mr. Mueller as special counsel to investigate whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice to block F.B.I. probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016, and about Mr. Flynn’s dealings with Russians.
The former general emerged as an early surrogate for Mr. Trump, endorsed him at an early phase when the former reality show star faced cold embrace and caution among the Republican establishment.
Mr. Flynn retrospectively registered his works for the Dutch company in March, saying that the time that his work would have well served the agenda of the Turkish government.