WASHINGTON – Fired by one American commander-in-chief for insubordination, Michael Flynn has now delivered his resignation to another.
President Donald Trump had been weighing the fate of his national security adviser, a hard-charging, feather-ruffling retired lieutenant general who just three weeks into the new administration put himself in the center of a controversy. Flynn resigned late Monday.
At issue was Flynn's contact with Moscow's ambassador to Washington. Flynn and the Russian appear to have discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia late last year, raising questions about whether he was freelancing on foreign policy while President Barack Obama was still in office and whether he misled Trump officials about the calls.
The uncertainty about his future had deepened Monday when the White House issued a statement saying that Trump is "evaluating the situation" surrounding Flynn. In his resignation letter, Flynn said he held numerous calls with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the transition and gave "incomplete information" about those discussions to Vice President Mike Pence.
The center of a storm is a familiar place for Flynn. His military career ended when Obama dismissed him as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014. Flynn has said he was pushed out for holding tougher views than Obama about Islamic extremism. But a former senior U.S. official said the firing was for insubordination, after Flynn failed to follow guidance from superiors.
Out of government, he disappeared into the murky world of mid-level defense contractors and international influence peddlers. In December 2015, he appeared at a Moscow banquet headlined by Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2016, Flynn, a lifelong if apolitical Democrat, became a trusted and eager confidant of Trump, joining anti-Hillary Clinton campaign chants of "Lock Her Up" and tweeting that "Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL."
As national security adviser, Flynn required no Senate confirmation vote or extreme vetting of his record.
The Washington Post and other U.S. newspapers, citing current and former U.S. officials, reported last week that Flynn made explicit references to U.S. sanctions on Russia in conversations with Putin's ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. One of the calls took place on Dec. 29, the day Obama announced new penalties against Russia's top intelligence agencies over allegations they meddled in the election with the objective of helping Trump win.
While it's not unusual for incoming administrations to have discussions with foreign governments before taking office, the repeated contacts just as the U.S. was pulling the trigger on sanctions suggests Trump's team might have helped shape Russia's response. They also contradicted denials about such sanctions discussions by several Trump administration officials, including the vice president. Some Democratic lawmakers want a congressional investigation.
For days, Trump had been publicly and unusually quiet on the matter. While his aides declared the president has confidence in Flynn, Trump privately told associates he was troubled by the situation, according to a person who spoke with him recently.
Flynn's sparkling military resume had included key assignments at home and abroad, and high praise from superiors.
The son of an Army veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Flynn was commissioned as a second lieutenant in May 1981. He started in intelligence and eventually rose to senior positions, including intelligence chief for U.S. Central Command.
Ian McCulloh, a Johns Hopkins data science specialist, became a Flynn admirer while working as an Army lieutenant colonel in Afghanistan in 2009. At the time, Flynn ran intelligence for the U.S.-led international coalition in Kabul and was pushing for more creative approaches to targeting Taliban networks, including use of data mining and social network analysis, according to McCulloh.
"He was pushing for us to think out of the box and try to leverage technology better and innovate," McCulloh said, crediting Flynn for improving the effectiveness of U.S. targeting. "A lot of people didn't like it because it was different."
After leaving the military, Flynn plunged into civilian life and moved to capitalize on his military and intelligence connections and experience.
He opened his own consulting firm, Flynn Intelligence Group, assembling a crew of former armed forces veterans with expertise in cyber, logistics and surveillance. One "team" member was lobbyist Robert Kelley.
Kelley proved a central player in the Flynn Group's decision to help a Turkish businessman tied to Turkey's government. At the same time that Flynn was advising Trump on national security matters, Kelley was lobbying legislators on behalf of businessman Ekim Alptekin's firm between mid-September and December last year, lobbying documents show.
It was an odd match. Flynn stirred controversy with dire warnings about Islam, calling it a "political ideology" that "definitely hides behind being a religion." But his alarms apparently didn't extend to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government as it cracked down on dissent and jailed thousands of opponents after a failed coup last summer.