Federal investigators are examining whether former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn met with senior Turkish officials just weeks before President Donald Trump’s inauguration about a potential quid pro quo in which Flynn would be paid to carry out directives from Ankara secretly while in the White House, according to multiple people familiar with the investigation.
Investigators for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference with the U.S. presidential election recently questioned witnesses about the alleged December 2016 meeting between Flynn and senior Turkish officials, two people knowledgeable with the interviews said. The questions were part of a line of inquiry regarding Flynn’s lobbying efforts on behalf of Turkey.
Four people familiar with the investigation said Mueller is looking into whether Flynn discussed in the late December meeting orchestrating the return to Turkey of a chief rival of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who lives in the U.S. Additionally, three people familiar with the probe said investigators are examining whether Flynn and other participants discussed a way to free a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab, who is jailed in the U.S. Zarrab is facing federal charges that he helped Iran skirt U.S. sanctions.
Mueller is specifically examining whether the deal, if successful, would have led to millions of dollars in secret payments to Flynn, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.
The meeting allegedly took place at the upscale 21 Club restaurant in New York, just blocks away from Trump Tower, where Flynn was serving on the presidential transition team. Flynn was offered upwards of $15 million, to be paid directly or indirectly, if he could complete the deal, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.
It is unclear how Flynn, as national security adviser, could have successfully carried out either alleged request. But any deal in which a government official would be bribed to secretly act on behalf of a foreign government could potentially constitute multiple federal crimes.
Investigators also are looking into what possible role Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, may have played in any such efforts. The younger Flynn worked closely with his father at his lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group.
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SOURCE: NBC News, Carol E. Lee and Julie Ainsley