Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in what started as a probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and any potential collusion with the Trump campaign, is reportedly investigating former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn for an alleged plan to "forcibly remove” a Muslim cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania and send him back to Turkey.
The alleged proposal, people "familiar with the investigation” told the Wall Street Journalin a report on Friday, involved paying Flynn and his son Michael Flynn Jr. as much as $15 million to bring the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, to Turkey, according to "people with knowledge of the discussions” Flynn had with Turkish officials in December.
The WSJ included these important caveats in its story:
The people who described the alleged proposal said they didn’t attend the December meeting and didn’t have direct knowledge from Mr. Flynn or his associates about its purported details. It isn’t clear how advanced Mr. Mueller’s investigation of the alleged plan to remove Mr. Gulen is, nor is there any indication that any money changed hands, according to those familiar with the discussions and the FBI investigation.
Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, called the plot allegations "outrageous and prejudicial,” adding, "they are false,” according to the WSJ.
Before the election, Flynn had done some lobbying work for Turkey, which included an op-ed in The Hill published on election day, advocating for Gulen’s extradition back to Turkey, where he faced potential charges of masterminding a failed coup in Turkey from his compound in Pennsylvania.
Turkey had been pressing the Obama administration to extradite him, to no avail.
The WSJ report said Flynn and Turkish officials met in mid-December at the ’21’ Club in New York City, where they discussed transporting Gulen on a private jet to a Turkish prison island.
The idea was first raised by Turkish officials during a meeting in a hotel on September 19, according to the report. One of Flynn’s business associates had invited former CIA Director James Woolsey to the meeting.
Woolsey then told then-Vice President Joe Biden through a mutual friend, who spoke to the WSJ.
A White House spokesman deferred all questions to a person from the Trump transition process, who said that any such meeting was not part of the transition.
"We don’t have any evidence that such a meeting took place,” that spokesman said about the December meeting. "And if it did take place, it happened not withstanding the transition.”
Mueller has so far unveiled three indictments — two against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and partner Rick Gates for alleged money laundering, tax fraud, violating lobbying regulations, and false statements – all before they joined the Trump campaign. They have pleaded not guilty.
Former unpaid foreign policy campaign adviser George Papadopoulos was indicted due to false statements he gave investigators about conversations with several Russian nationals, rather than because of those contacts. He struck a plea bargain with investigators.
Investigators are also looking at whether Flynn violated lobbying regulations, since he only retroactively registered as a lobbyist for foreign powers. Tony Podesta, former head of the soon-to-be-defunct Podesta Group, is reportedly also under investigation for not registering as a lobbyist for foreign powers related to the firm’s work for Manafort.
Flynn resigned from his position as national security adviser, after the Washington Postleaked that Flynn had talked to Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak about sanctions, when he had allegedly told Vice President Mike Pence that he had not.
The FBI cleared him of anything improper in his conversations with Kislyak, but it was the prospect of him not sharing it with Pence that ultimately led to his resignation.