The Slatest

How the DOJ’s Indictment of Michael Flynn’s Business Partners Fits Into the Larger Russia Collusion Story

Flynn smiles against a backdrop of photographers.
Michael Flynn leaving a federal courthouse on July 10.
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Two business partners of former national security adviser Michael Flynn have been indicted for failing to register as agents of the Turkish government while carrying out an influence campaign that Flynn took part in just before the 2016 election, an unsealed filing from federal court in Virginia revealed Monday.

The two men, Bijan Kian and Ekim Alptekin, worked with Flynn on a campaign to secure the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish spiritual and political leader who has lived in the U.S. since 1999, to Turkey. (Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan considers Gülen an enemy and blames him for a 2016 coup attempt.) Flynn and his associates, at a time that Flynn was advising then-candidate Donald Trump on national security issues, lobbied U.S. officials and legislators and placed an anti-Gülen op-ed under Flynn’s name in the D.C. publication The Hill on Election Day without disclosing that they were being indirectly paid for their work by Turkey. In his initial plea agreement with Robert Mueller’s special counsel office, Flynn admitted to having failed to properly register as a Turkish agent and to having subsequently submitted false information to the government while it was investigating the matter. (The indictment against Kian and Alptekin was filed by a U.S. attorney in Virginia, not by Mueller.)

Kian was the vice-chairman of the Flynn Intel Group, Flynn’s company; Alptekin helped broker the Turkey contract and paid the Flynn Group through a Dutch intermediary. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Flynn at one point in 2016 went so far as to raise the possibility of essentially kidnapping Gülen—who lives on a compound in rural Pennsylvania—on behalf of his Turkish clients, but no charges related to that alleged plot have been filed.

While Flynn’s work for Turkey appears to have been unrelated to his more newsworthy contact with Russia, the new indictment deepens the picture presented of him in government filings as someone who was willing to undermine U.S. interests for selfish reasons. Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday on an charge of lying to the FBI about a conversation he had with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during the presidential transition period about relaxing economic sanctions, a conversation which could speak to a quid pro quo agreement related to Russia’s hacking and propaganda attacks against Hillary Clinton. And while Mueller has not yet answered the million-dollar question of whether he believes such a quid pro quo—i.e. explicit collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence—did in fact take place, he and the DOJ have potentially set the groundwork for it by showing that figures like Flynn, ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen brazenly broke laws related to election integrity and foreign influence on other occasions. Engaging in a criminal conspiracy with Russia to win a presidential election would have been a pretty audacious thing to do; while we don’t have the full story yet about what happened in 2016, what we’ve seen laid out by the DOJ over the past year-plus is that, at the least, there were a lot of pretty audacious criminals hanging around the Trump campaign at the time.