WASHINGTON – The Defense Intelligence Agency is refusing to publicly release a wide array of documents related to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, saying that turning them over could interfere with ongoing congressional and federal investigations.
Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and former DIA director, is currently under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees. They are scrutinizing his private consulting work for a Turkish businessman as well as his activities related to Russia during President Donald Trump's campaign and the early days of the Trump administration. The Defense Department's inspector general also is investigating Flynn's receipt of foreign payments as a retired military officer.
In a series of letters dated Nov. 15, the DIA denied several Freedom of Information Act requests filed over the past year by The Associated Press seeking information about Flynn's tenure at the DIA from 2012 to 2014. The AP requests sought Flynn's public and private calendars, his correspondence while at DIA and a specific listing of documents related to his security clearance that the agency provided to Congress earlier this year. Two of the AP's requests were filed before Mueller's appointment and one of those was filed the day before Trump took office.
In the letters, Alesia Y. Williams, DIA's chief FOIA officer, said she would not release any requested records because they "could reasonably be expected to interfere with on-going law enforcement investigative activities." Williams also indicated this was part of a coordinated effort within the Defense Department to withhold public documents related to Flynn that could be related to ongoing federal and congressional probes.
BuzzFeed News also reported Tuesday that it had received a similar denial for records related to Flynn. The BuzzFeed request was nearly three years old.
Messages left with DIA spokesmen Tuesday afternoon weren't immediately returned.
The agency's decisions came about a week before Flynn's lawyers informed Trump's legal team that they would no longer share information about Mueller's investigation — a sign that Flynn is moving to cooperate or possibly negotiate a deal with prosecutors. Flynn's attorney, Robert Kelner, has declined to comment on the status of the investigation or the move to cut off contact with the president's legal team.
It's unclear how long the Defense Intelligence Agency will continue to bar public access to Flynn-related documents, according to the letters.
Williams said the agency would continue to withhold records related to Flynn until the "conclusion of the present investigative activity." But the letters do not indicate how agency officials would determine when the investigation concluded. Instead, Williams put the burden on members of the public who seek records, saying they should submit a new request when they "believe it is likely that the investigation has concluded."
Flynn faces a number of legal troubles on multiple fronts.
The special counsel and congressional committees have been scrutinizing Flynn's contacts with Russia during the presidential transition and the campaign. He has also been under federal investigation for nearly a year over lobbying and investigative research work his firm, Flynn Intel Group, performed for a Turkish businessman. Flynn's firm was paid $530,000 for a lobbying effort that sought to gather information that could support a criminal case against a Turkish cleric living in the U.S. Flynn also wrote an op-ed promoting Turkish government talking points attacking the cleric, Fethullah Gulen.
After his forced resignation from his White House post, Flynn and his firm registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent, acknowledging his work could have benefited the government of Turkey and should have been disclosed to the government. But since that registration, prosecutors and FBI agents working for Mueller have been investigating whether the Turkish government was directing the lobbying work and not the private company that Flynn cited in his filing with the Justice Department. Investigators have also been looking into Flynn's son, Michael Flynn Jr., who worked alongside his father, and Flynn's business partner, Bijan Kian.
Flynn has also faced scrutiny over his truthfulness on government forms and in interviews with federal investigators.
Former FBI Director James Comey testified earlier this year that Flynn was the target of a federal investigation into his contacts with Russia and whether he lied to agents about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the U.S. In his testimony before the Senate intelligence committee, Comey said it was that investigation into Flynn that Trump pressured him to "let go" in the Oval office. Through his lawyers, the president has denied pressuring Comey.
Separately, congressional Democrats have said they believe Flynn lied about his foreign contacts and travel on his security clearance paperwork related to a proposal to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East.
The former Republican chairman and the top Democrat on a House oversight committee have also said they believe Flynn broke federal law by not getting government permission to receive tens of thousands of dollars in payments from RT, the Russian state-sponsored television network. The receipt of those foreign payments is currently under scrutiny by the Defense Department's inspector general, though he would likely only face civil penalties if investigators found Flynn had violated the law.
Associated Press writer Stephen Braun contributed to this report.
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