Russia, Trump, Turkey: Detailing Michael Flynn's fall
(We published an updated version of this timeline on Dec. 5, 2018.)
How to make sense of Michael Flynn's contradictions? He was one of the most distinguished military intelligence officers in a generation. Now he’s the shortest-lived national security adviser in American history after loose-lipped talk with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
It's too soon to know how history will judge Flynn, an accomplished soldier under the microscope for ties to Russian and Turkish interests.
What's certain is before his foray into politics, Flynn had a distinguished 33-year Army career that included top-level intelligence posts and promotion to the rank of three-star general. Perhaps his greatest achievement in uniform was helping transform Special Operations forces into what's been described as "history's most lethal terrorist-hunting network."
Flynn was considered a maverick who sometimes pursued unworkable proposals, and whose chaotic management style and blunt talk rubbed some the wrong way. He retired forcibly at age 55 after President Barack Obama ousted him as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s CIA.
After Flynn left the military he gained the attention of several Republican candidates who sought his counsel — including Donald Trump, who tapped Flynn as his national security adviser over warnings from the previous administration.
Twenty-four days later, Flynn resigned.
With at least a half-dozen criss-crossing investigations into possible collusion between Trump associates and Russia around the 2016 election, financial crimes and obstruction of justice, Flynn’s name will remain in the news.
The following timeline, based on news reports, aims to help make sense of the swirling events that precipitated Flynn’s fall, and what’s emerged since.
June 2013: Flynn travels to Moscow, visits Russian military intelligence headquarters
Flynn, then-director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, traveled to Moscow on a trip coordinated in part by Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. (Washington Post). In a rare move for a DIA director, Flynn visited the headquarters of Russia’s military intelligence directorate, the GRU.
Aug. 7, 2014: Flynn leaves military after being forced out as head of Pentagon intelligence agency
Flynn retires a year ahead of schedule at the DIA. Flynn said he dissented against the Obama administration's passivity on terrorism. He believed intelligence reports were being watered down and chafed when Obama dismissed ISIS as a "JV team." In an ironic twist, one day after Flynn’s involuntary retirement in fall 2014, Obama announced the United States had begun a bombing campaign against ISIS that would prove to extend beyond his presidency.
Some members of the Washington national security coterie speculate Flynn’s anger over what he sees as an unjust end to his military career explains why he would later fall in line behind Trump and his iconoclastic national security approach. (Washington Post, Politico)
Oct. 8, 2014: DIA lawyers send memo to Flynn outlining legal obligations as retired Army officer
At Flynn’s request, lawyers at DIA sent a legal memo outlining legal and ethical restrictions applying to Flynn in retirement, including his disclosure requirements. (PDF)
Feb. 8, 2015: Flynn appears on Fox News, gains attention of Republican candidates
Flynn began appearing on Fox News, which eventually led five Republican presidential candidates, including Trump, to seek his counsel. Fox became a platform for Flynn to criticize the Obama administration and sound the alarm about radical Islamic terrorists "threatening our way of life." (Fox News Sunday)
June 16, 2015: Donald Trump announces candidacy for president
August 2015: Flynn meets, briefs Trump ahead of Republican primary debate
Dec. 10, 2015: Flynn dines with Vladimir Putin at RT gala in Moscow
Flynn accepts $33,750 to speak about U.S. foreign policy at a conference in Moscow, where he also sat beside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a gala for the Kremlin-influenced RT (formerly Russia Today). (Politico, Wall Street Journal)
Feb. 26, 2016: Flynn begins acting as an adviser to Trump (Reuters)
July 15, 2016: Flynn signals support for an attempted coup against Turkish President Recep Erdogan (YouTube)
Aug. 9, 2016: Flynn Intel Group enters contract to enhance Turkey’s image with U.S. business community
Flynn Intel Group is hired by Netherlands-based company Inovo, owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, who chairs the Turkey-U.S. Business Council, which falls under the control of the Turkish government. (Wall Street Journal)
The Flynn group’s focus would be on improving Turkey’s image as an investment destination in the eyes of the U.S. business community, according to a disclosure form Flynn would later submit to the Justice Department. (See Foreign Agents Registration Act form)
Sept. 15, 2016: Flynn Intel Group registers as a lobbying firm for Inovo (Lobbying disclosure form)
The lobbying filing meant the Flynn Intel Group is legally a lobbying firm and its attorney is officially a lobbyist. However, it did not make Flynn himself an officially registered lobbyist, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Sept. 19, 2016: Flynn meets with Turkish officials to discuss possibly abducting the Turkish president’s political enemy
Flynn meets with Turkish officials, including Turkey’s foreign minister and the son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Erdogan, to discuss the possibility of abducting an Erdogan political enemy living in Pennsylvania, and delivering him to Turkey, according to an ex-CIA Director who attended the meeting. (Wall Street Journal) Former CIA chief James Woolsey was later quoted in a March 2017 Wall Street Journal article saying he was startled upon hearing discussion of possibly kidnapping cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Oct. 10, 2016: Flynn met with Turkish community leaders linked to Erdogan
Flynn meets with with Turkish community leaders associated with Erdogan, who raised the subject of Gulen. (Daily Caller)
Nov. 8, 2016: Flynn writes op-ed about Turkey
On Election Day, Flynn published an op-ed in The Hill arguing the United States should back Erdogan’s government — an apparent contradiction to Flynn’s earlier support for the coup attempt.
In his piece, Flynn also compares Gulen to Osama Bin Laden. The Hill later published an editor’s note saying Flynn had failed to disclose to the newspaper that he was undertaking "consulting work that might have aided the government of Turkey." (The Hill)
Nov. 10, 2016: Obama warns Trump about Flynn
Nov. 11, 2016: Reports highlight Flynn’s links to Turkey
The Daily Caller appears to be the first to link Flynn to Turkey, discovering through Dutch records that Erdogan’s ally Alptekin was behind Inovo, the firm the Flynn Intel Group was lobbying on behalf of. Such reporting fueled questions whether the Flynn group’s lobbying work was connected to Flynn’s recent public support for Erdogan.
Nov. 15, 2016: Flynn joined Trump for an intelligence briefing at the White House (NBC)
Nov. 16, 2016: Flynn Intel Group contract with Inovo expires
Flynn Intel Group’s lawyer would later file a lobbying disclosure form stating the group’s contract with Inovo expired on this date. (L-2 Disclosure Form)
Nov. 18, 2016: Trump taps Flynn as national security adviser
Late November 2016: Trump transition officials reportedly warn Flynn about his contacts with Russian ambassador
Senior Trump transition officials warned Flynn that Russian ambassador Kislyak’s "conversations were almost certainly being monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies," according to the Washington Post.
Nov. 30, 2016: DOJ officials reportedly contact Flynn about his Turkish interests
Officials with the Department of Justice’s National Security Division reportedly contacted Flynn over concerns about his work on behalf of Inovo. Internal documents reportedly show the DOJ’s interest in Flynn’s Turkish links grew after his Election Day op-ed. (Daily Caller)
Early December 2016: Flynn and Trump adviser and son-in-law Kushner meet with Kislyak at Trump Tower (New York Times)
Dec. 29, 2016: Obama administration imposes sanctions on Russia
The Obama administration responds to Russia’s interference in the U.S. election by issuing sanctions and ejecting Russian diplomats. (New York Times)
Dec. 29, 2016: Flynn reportedly speaks with Russian ambassador about sanctions
Dec. 30, 2016: Putin announces Russia would not retaliate; Trump praises decision
In a move that caught Kremlinologists by surprise, Putin declines to retaliate against the Obama administration’s sanctions.
"While we reserve the right to take reciprocal measures, we’re not going to downgrade ourselves to the level of irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy," Mr. Putin said, using a common Russian idiom for quarrelsome and unseemly acts. "In our future steps on the way toward the restoration of Russia-United States relations, we will proceed from the policy pursued by the administration" of Donald J. Trump. (New York Times)
Later that day, Trump praises Putin’s decision over Twitter:
Jan. 2, 2017: Obama administration learns of Flynn’s Dec. 29 conversations with Kislyak (New York Times)
Jan. 10, 2017: Flynn urged Obama administration to delay a military operation involving Kurds
According to the Washington Post, Flynn urged Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice not to launch an operation to seize Raqqa, Syria, ISIS’s de facto capital. The plan involved arming Kurdish fighters, which was likely to infuriate Turkey’s president Erdogan, who views Kurdish fighters in the as region terrorists. Some lawmakers wondered whether Flynn’s judgment was affected by his contemporaneous lobbying of Turkish interests. (McClatchy DC)
Jan. 12, 2017: News breaks that Flynn and Kislyak talked Dec. 29
It was not yet publicly reported, however, that Flynn and Kislyak had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia for election meddling. (Washington Post)
Jan. 13, 2017: Sean Spicer denies Flynn discussed sanctions with Kislyak (Washington Post)
Jan. 14, 2017: Flynn tells Pence he had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak (New York Times)
Jan. 19, 2017: Decision to tell Trump administration about Flynn’s conversation delayed
During Obama’s last day in office, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and then-CIA Director John Brennan wanted to brief the Trump administration on Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, which had been intercepted by U.S. intelligence, over fears that Flynn could be blackmailed by Russians, who knew he’d misled Pence and others. Yates and Brennan reportedly deferred to then-FBI Director James Comey, who feared such a disclosure could interfere with an ongoing investigation. (Washington Post)
Jan. 22, 2017: Flynn sworn in as nation's 25th national security adviser (Washington Post)
Jan. 22, 2017: Reports claim Flynn under investigation for communications with Russians
It’s reported that Flynn is under a counterintelligence investigation, making Flynn the first person inside the Trump White House whose communications were known to have been scrutinized by the FBI and other agencies looking into Russian officials’ contact with close Trump associates. (Wall Street Journal)
Jan. 23, 2017: Sean Spicer denies Flynn discussed sanctions with Kislyak
Jan. 24, 2017: Flynn denies to FBI that he discussed sanctions with Kislyak, Washington Post reports
Jan. 26, 2017: Yates informs White House that Flynn misrepresented Kislyak conversation
Yates, then-acting attorney general, tells White House counsel Don McGahn that intercepts contradict Flynn’s account of his Dec. 29 conversation with Kislyak, in which Flynn claimed he hadn’t discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador. (Wall Street Journal)
Jan. 27, 2017: The New York Times, citing Comey associates, reports that Trump asked Comey to pledge his loyalty to Trump during private dinner
Jan. 28, 2017: Trump speaks with Putin on the phone for nearly an hour; Flynn, others present in Oval Office
Feb. 8, 2017: Flynn tells the Washington Post he did not discuss sanctions with Kislyak
Feb. 9, 2017: U.S. intelligence officials reveal Flynn discussed sanctions with Russian ambassador, despite denials; Flynn walks back denial
Citing current and former American officials, the New York Times reported that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak.
A Flynn spokesman walked back the denial Flynn gave the Washington Post a day earlier. The spokesman said Flynn "indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up." (Washington Post)
Feb. 10, 2017: Trump tells reporters on Air Force One he will "look into" reports concerning Flynn (New York Times)
Feb. 10, 2017: Flynn apologizes to Pence for misleading him (USA Today)
Feb. 13, 2017: The Washington Post reports White House was told of Flynn’s contradiction 18 days earlier (Washington Post)
Feb. 13, 2017: Reports reveal Flynn under Army investigation
The Army had been investigating whether payments Flynn accepted for his 2015 Moscow trip had come from the Russian government without obtaining congressional consent, possibly in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. (New York Times)
Feb. 13, 2017: Flynn resigns after 24 days
It’s the shortest tenure for a national security adviser in history.
Feb. 14, 2017: Reports say Trump asked Comey to drop Flynn investigation
"I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Trump told Comey, according to a memo Comey made after his meeting and reported on by the New York Times. "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
Feb. 17, 2017: According to CNN, the FBI does not believe Flynn ‘intentionally’ misled them on Kislyak even after changing his story
March 7, 2017: Flynn’s company shown to have lobbied for Turkish-linked firm after election
Flynn retroactively files as a foreign agent with Justice Department for his work with the Turkish-linked firm Inovo. Flynn’s filing shows Flynn Intel Group received $535,000 between Sept. 9 and Nov. 14. (Politico)
March 9, 2017: Pence says he learned about Flynn’s Turkish lobbying through media (Fox News)
March 20, 2017: Comey publicly confirms at a House Intelligence hearing the FBI investigating possible Trump campaign-Russia ties
March 24, 2017: Former CIA Woolsey director tells Wall Street Journal about Flynn’s bizarre meeting with Turkish officials where kidnapping idea floated
March 30, 2017: Flynn offers to testify in Russia investigation in exchange for immunity
Flynn offered to testify in the investigations by the FBI or Senate and House intelligence committees in exchange for immunity from criminal prosecution. "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit," Flynn’s lawyer Robert Kelner said in a statement.
April 27, 2017: Flynn’s foreign payments under investigation by Pentagon inspector general (Reuters)
May 8, 2017: Yates tells Senate panel she warned Trump administration about Flynn-Kislyak discussions (Guardian)
May 9, 2017: Grand jury subpoenas issued to Flynn associates for business records
The US Attorney's Office in Alexandria, Va., reportedly issued subpoenas some weeks earlier to associates who worked with Flynn after his retirement from DIA, CNN reported. The subpoenas reportedly seek Flynn’s business records. (CNN)
May 9, 2017: Trump fires FBI Director Comey
May 10, 2017: Trump meets with Russian delegation; the New York Times reported Trump boasted that firing ‘nut job’ Comey eases pressure from Russia investigation
White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not dispute the Times story. Instead, he blamed Comey’s "grandstanding and politicizing" of the Russia probe for making the administration’s engagement with Moscow more challenging.
"The President has always emphasized the importance of making deals with Russia as it relates to Syria, Ukraine, defeating ISIS and other key issues for the benefit and safety of the American people," Spicer said in a statement.
"By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia's actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia," the statement continued. "The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations."
May 11, 2017: Trump says Russia story part of reasoning for firing Comey
Trump tells NBC’s Lester Holt: "When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won." Fact-check: Pants on Fire!
May 10, 2017: Senate intelligence committee subpoenas Michael Flynn
The Senate intelligence committee subpoenas Flynn for "documents regarding his interactions with Russian officials," according to CNN.
May 17, 2017: The New York Times reports that Trump transition team knew Flynn was under investigation
Weeks before Trump’s inauguration, Flynn reportedly told the transition team he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign. (New York Times)
May 17, 2017: Special counsel appointed for Russia investigation
The Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the investigation into possible ties or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials as well as other matters that "may arise directly from the investigation." NBC reports Flynn is among the "key figures" in the special counsel’s Russia probe.
May 18, 2017: Trump denies that he told Comey to shut down Flynn investigation
Trump flatly denied pressuring Comey over Flynn when asked about it at a news conference:
Reporter: "Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape or form to close or to back down on the investigation into Michael Flynn?"
Trump: "No. No. Next question."
May 22, 2017: Flynn rejects order to hand over documents
Invoking his right against self-incrimination, Flynn declined to comply with a Senate subpoena of emails and other records related to any dealings with Russians, as part of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. (New York Times)