(WASHINGTON) — In a rare public statement, attorneys for Lt. General Michael Flynn lashed out Friday at news reports that the federal investigation into the former top adviser to President Trump is looking into allegations he helped plot a kidnapping for the Turkish government.
“Today’s news cycle has brought allegations about General Flynn, ranging from kidnapping to bribery, that are so outrageous and prejudicial that we are making an exception to our usual rule,” Flynn’s top attorney Robert Kelner said in a statement. “They are false.”
The statement came after the Wall Street Journal reported federal investigators working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller had interviewed participants in two meetings between Flynn and representatives of Turkey. During those meetings, the report said, Flynn discussed a plot to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric living in the U.S. and deliver him to Turkey in return for as much as $15 million dollars.
ABC News reported on those meetings in September, citing allegations by former CIA director James Woolsey, who said he attended a meeting in which Flynn allegedly raised the idea of an operation to capture a Turkish dissident, cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is living in exile in rural Pennsylvania.
Turkish officials have accused the cleric of involvement in a failed coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Gulen, who has denied involvement, has lived legally in the Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains since 1999, and the Turkish government has been financing efforts to persuade the U.S. government to return Gulen to Turkey for years.
“It became clear to me that, they were seriously considering a kidnapping operation for Gulen, and I told them then that it was a bad idea, it was illegal,” Woolsey said of the meeting. “I won’t say that they had firmly decided to do that. But they were seriously considering it.”
Woolsey has been interviewed multiple times by federal agents working on the Mueller team, according to Nancye Miller, his wife and business partner.
Flynn’s lawyer said at the time there was no such discussion, calling the allegation categorically “false.” At a press conference in July, the Turkish ambassador to the U.S. also denied the notion of a kidnapping plot.
“There’s no truth to that,” he said, adding that the government was following “traditional” procedures to have Gulen extradited “through the legal channels.”
Friday’s statement was a rare move by Flynn’s lawyers, who, like their client, have remained largely silent in the months since Flynn was removed as Trump’s national security adviser.
“Out of respect for the process of the various investigations regarding the 2016 campaign, we have intentionally avoided responding to every rumor or allegation raised in the media,” Kelner’s statement Friday said.
There have been repeated reports in recent weeks that Mueller’s team is looking closely at Flynn’s activities during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, where he served as a top adviser to Trump.
Of particular interest is Flynn’s visit to Russia, where he was paid to attend a dinner honoring the Russian television network RT – and was seated next to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Investigators have also been looking at his consulting work for a Turkish businessman, which he only belatedly reported in federal disclosure filings.
Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told ABC News he found disturbing the mere suggestion that there were discussions about attempting to remove Gulen from the U.S. without a formal extradition process.
“I think there’s a lot of information about General Flynn, that we don’t know,” Cardin said. “And I think it’s going to be very interesting as the investigation continues, as to whether we learn more information about contacts that he made, or other individuals that may be involved with him. …And that’s why the Mueller investigation is particularly important.”
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