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Dec 07 2018

Mueller report may reveal Turkish meddling in U.S. elections, fmr FBI asst. director says

A former U.S. counterintelligence officer has told journalist Brian Williams that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn may have turned up evidence of attempts by Turkey to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election.

“Look for this mystery criminal case to possibly involve another country meddling with the election and Flynn having knowledge of it,” said Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director of counterintelligence at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, during an episode of Williams’s news talk show 11th Hour.

“Based on what’s already been reported about certain lines of questioning, look for Saudi, look for Turkey to be subject to investigation on the degree to which they tried to assist the Trump campaign and/or meddle with the election,” said Figliuzzi.

Flynn is one of the highest profile names under investigation by Mueller in the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election. He was forced to resign as National Security Adviser in February 2017, after a 24-day tenure in the position, after being discovered to have lied about his communications with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The former general was also found to have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby against Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist preacher deemed a grave enemy by the Turkish government.

Mueller’s memo detailing the sentencing of Flynn made headlines this week when it was released this week. The memo is also heavily redacted – there is little to hint at what evidence Flynn provided during the investigation – and it is recommending against jail time due to the retired general’s “substantial assistance” in the investigation.

Commentators have gleaned from the report that Flynn cooperated in three investigations – the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia in the 2016 presidential election, a second criminal investigation, all other details of which were redacted, and a third so heavily redacted that it is unclear whether it is civil or criminal.

Reporting by Mark Mazzetti and Adam Goldman of the New York Times suggests the second of these investigations focusses on Flynn’s lobbying activities.

“The Turkey case appears to fit as one of those inquiries because Mr. Flynn has direct knowledge of aspects under scrutiny,” their December 5 New York Times article said.

Flynn became caught up in the investigation after publishing an op-ed on election day in November 2016 calling for the extradition of Gülen.

It was Gülen whose religious movement Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed for the coup attempt his government survived in July 2016. Erdoğan’s administration has applied for Gülen’s extradition from the United States, where the preacher has been resident since 1999, but the U.S. Department of Justice is thought to have found evidence for his involvement in criminal activity insufficient.

Soon after Flynn’s op-ed was published, journalist Chuck Ross discovered he had been paid over in lobbying fees by Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman known to have close ties to the Turkish government.

The fee bought Flynn’s op-ed, but also extensive unofficial attempts to have Gülen extradited. An intelligence group set up by Flynn hired former FBI and other investigators to prepare materials including criminal referrals against the preacher.

Flynn’s attempts to send Gülen back to Turkey may have gone way beyond lobbying for his extradition, according to a former Central Intelligence Agency director. James Woolsey told the Washington Post in November 2017 that Flynn had discussed abducting the preacher with Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

At the time both Woolsey and Flynn had been advising the Trump campaign. The Wall Street Journal’s report says the Turkish government was willing to pay $15 million if Gülen was handed over. However, a representative of Flynn has denied anything illegal was discussed with the Turks, and Woolsey has admitted he did not hear the full conversation.

These and other allegations related to Flynn’s lobbying activities may be brought up at a grand jury hearing in the U.S. state of Virginia, the New York Times reported.

“Flynn admitted to prosecutors last year that he had violated Justice Department rules mandating the registration of foreign lobbyists, but he has not yet been charged with a crime related to his work with Turkey,” U.S. newspaper the Hill reported on Wednesday.

Politico also linked Flynn's Turkish lobbying to Russia in a April 2017 article. Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin's business ties with Russia as well as alleged coordination with Russian Dmitri "David" Zaikin in lobbying efforts in DC created questions over the Russian and Turkish lobbying efforts. Alptekin denied any knowledge of coordination with Zaikin.