The Rise And Fall Of Michael Flynn

12 hours ago
Originally published on December 5, 2018 4:19 pm

Michael Flynn was a scrappy kid, one of nine siblings in an Irish Catholic family. He went to the University of Rhode Island on an ROTC scholarship and made a name for himself during three decades in the Army, rising to lieutenant general.

As an intelligence officer, he was skilled in tracking down extremists in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That led to the high point of his military career in 2012, when he was named head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

"The demands on the United States intelligence system have skyrocketed in recent years, and these demands are only expected to increase," Flynn testified to Congress.

But since that time, Flynn has been on a roller-coaster ride. He is back in the news again as Robert Mueller's investigative team announced Tuesday that Flynn was providing substantial cooperation in the inquiry into possible collusion between Russia and President Trump's 2016 campaign.

Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 of lying to the FBI and is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 18. The prosecutors are recommending that he not serve any prison time.

Before he encountered legal trouble, Flynn had a brief and difficult tenure at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Many previous military assignments emphasized Flynn's skills as a can-do officer in the field. As director of DIA, he had to be more of a manager and a strategic thinker.

Friction with the White House

Flynn clashed with President Barack Obama's White House about how the U.S. was waging its wars. He felt the president was not aggressive enough and needed to take a more comprehensive approach, as he wrote later in his book.

"We can't win this war by treating radical Islamic terrorists as a handful of crazies," Flynn wrote. "The political and theological underpinnings of their immoral actions have to be demolished."

After just two years at DIA, Flynn was ousted; he retired from the Army.

He set up a private consulting firm and represented a number of foreign clients — including some with controversial ties in Turkey — which he didn't disclose at the time.

But above all, Flynn had a strange and contradictory relationship with Russia.

"When we think about countries like Russia, countries like Cuba, countries like Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, I mean, these are — in many cases, these are criminal enterprises that — that have dictatorships and certainly tyrants," Flynn told NPR in August 2016.

Yet only months earlier, Flynn was wearing a tux at a high-profile dinner in Moscow where he sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Flynn was paid more than $30,000 for a speech.

So what did Flynn really think of Putin?

"There's no reason to believe Putin would welcome cooperation with us. Quite the contrary, in fact," Flynn said in the summer of 2016 in the audio version of his book, The Field of Fight.

Linking up with President Trump

At that very same time, Flynn was a top adviser to candidate Donald Trump, who kept raising the possibility of improved relations with Russia.

Flynn also began to soften his harsh take on Russia, suggesting the two countries could work together in some instances, like cooperating to battle Islamist radicals in the Middle East.

His most memorable campaign moment came when he spoke about Hillary Clinton at the Republican National Convention.

"We do not need a reckless president who believes she is above the law," Flynn said. Then he joined the raucous crowd in chants of "Lock her up, lock her up."

A few months later, as Obama was preparing to leave office, he reportedly warned Trump not to make Flynn the national security adviser.

But Trump did so — and problems began before the newly elected Trump was in the Oval Office.

Flynn spoke with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. in December 2016 — and then lied about it to the FBI.

He resigned after less than a month on the job and pleaded guilty to lying a year ago.

Trump says Flynn has been treated unfairly.

"I feel badly for Gen. Flynn. I feel very badly," Trump said. "He's led a strong life."

Flynn has been out of the headlines for the past year. But the documents released Tuesday say he has spoken with Mueller's investigative team 19 times.

Prosecutors cite that cooperation, and Flynn's military career, as reasons the judge should show leniency when he is sentenced later this month.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Michael Flynn, President Trump's first national security adviser, resigned amid questions about his contacts with Russia before taking office. Now he's cooperating with Robert Mueller's investigation. Prosecutors are recommending that Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, should not go to prison. NPR's Greg Myre has this look at Flynn's rise and fall.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Michael Flynn was a scrappy kid, one of nine siblings in an Irish Catholic family. He went to the University of Rhode Island on an ROTC scholarship and made a name for himself during three decades in the Army, rising to lieutenant general. As an intelligence officer, he had a real talent for tracking down extremists in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That led, in 2012, to the high point of his military career.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Ladies and gentlemen, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn.

(APPLAUSE)

MYRE: Previous assignments emphasized Flynn's skills as a can-do officer in the field. As director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, he had to be more of a manager and a strategic thinker. Here he is testifying to Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL FLYNN: The demands on the United States intelligence system have skyrocketed in recent years, and these demands are only expected to increase.

MYRE: His tenure was troubled. Flynn clashed with President Barack Obama's White House about how the U.S. was waging its wars. A hacked email written by Colin Powell, a former general and secretary of state, said Flynn was abusive to the staff and a poor manager. After just two years, Flynn was ousted and retired from the Army. He set up a private consulting firm and represented a number of foreign clients, including some with controversial ties to Turkey, which he didn't disclose. But above all, Flynn had a strange and contradictory relationship with Russia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

FLYNN: And when we think about countries like Russia, countries like Cuba, countries like Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, in many cases, these are criminal enterprises that have dictatorships and certainly tyrants.

MYRE: That's Flynn speaking to NPR in August 2016. Yet only months earlier, Flynn was wearing a tux at a high-profile dinner in Moscow where he sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin. So what did Flynn really think of Putin?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FLYNN: There is no reason to believe Putin would welcome cooperation with us - quite the contrary, in fact.

MYRE: That's Flynn speaking in the summer of 2016 in the audio version of his book, "The Field Of Fight." At the very same time, Flynn was a top adviser to candidate Donald Trump, who kept raising the possibility of improved relations with Russia. Flynn began to soften his harsh take on Russia, suggesting the two countries could work together. His most memorable campaign moment came when he spoke about Hillary Clinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FLYNN: We do not need a reckless president who believes she is above the law.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Lock her up. Lock her up.

FLYNN: Lock her up. That's right.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Lock her up. Lock her up.

FLYNN: Yeah, that's right. Lock her up.

MYRE: As Obama was about to leave office, he reportedly warned Trump not to make Flynn the national security adviser. But Trump did so, and problems began before the new president was in the Oval Office. Flynn spoke with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. in December 2016 and then lied about it to the FBI. He resigned after less than a month on the job and pleaded guilty to lying a year ago. Trump says Flynn has been treated unfairly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I feel badly for General Flynn. I feel very badly. He's led a very strong life.

MYRE: Flynn has been out of the headlines for the past year, but the documents released Tuesday say he's spoken with Robert Mueller's investigative team 19 times. Prosecutors cite that cooperation and Flynn's military career as reasons the judge should show leniency. Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.