WASHINGTON – Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, told a former business associate that economic sanctions against Russia would be "ripped up" as one of the Trump administration's first acts, according to an account by a whistleblower made public on Wednesday.
Flynn believed that ending the sanctions could allow a business project he had once participated in to move forward, according to the whistleblower. The account is the strongest evidence to date that the Trump administration wanted to end the sanctions immediately, and suggests that Flynn had a possible economic incentive for the United States to forge a closer relationship with Russia.
Flynn had worked on a business venture to partner with Russia to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East until June 2016, but remained close with the people involved afterward. On Inauguration Day, according to the whistleblower, Flynn texted the former business associate to say that the project was "good to go."
The account is detailed in a letter written by Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. In the letter, Cummings said that the whistleblower contacted his office in June and has authorized him to go public with the details. He did not name the whistleblower.
"These grave allegations compel a full, credible and bipartisan congressional investigation," Cummings wrote.
Flynn has been under investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia's attempts to disrupt last year's election, for calls he made last December to Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time. Flynn pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to the FBI about the nature of his calls, during which the men discussed the sanctions that the Obama administration had just imposed on Russia.
In his letter, Cummings also said that his staff had been in consultations with Mueller's team, which brought the criminal charge against Flynn. Staffers for the special counsel asked Cummings not to make the whistleblower's account public until "they completed certain investigative steps," he wrote.
According to the account detailed in the letter, the whistleblower had a conversation on Inauguration Day with Alex Copson of ACU Strategic Partners, a company that hired Flynn in 2015 as an adviser to develop a plan to work with Russia to build nuclear power plants throughout the Middle East. Flynn served as an adviser until June 2016.
During the conversation, Copson told the whistleblower that "this is the best day of my life" because it was "the start of something I've been working on for years, and we are good to go." Copson told the whistleblower that Flynn had sent him a text message during Trump's inaugural address, directing him to tell others involved in the nuclear project to continue developing their plans.
"This is going to make a lot of very wealthy people," Copson said.
Attempts to reach Copson Wednesday were unsuccessful. A lawyer for Flynn declined to comment.
The letter went on to say that "Mr. Copson explained that Gen. Flynn was making sure that sanctions would be 'ripped up' as one of his first orders of business and that this would allow money to start flowing into the project."
President Barack Obama first imposed economic sanctions on Russia in 2014, after Russia's military incursions in Crimea and Ukraine, and again last December to punish Russia for its attempts to disrupt the U.S. presidential election.
Earlier this year, various plans to lift the Russia sanctions circulated through the Trump administration, but Trump ultimately decided not to repeal the measures. Flynn lasted just 24 days as national security adviser before he was forced out amid questions about whether he lied to administration officials about the nature of his phone calls with Kislyak.
Cummings sent the letter to the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and asked him to investigate the whistleblower's claims. The whistleblower, Cummings said, is willing to meet with Gowdy if he agrees to protect the person's identity.
"I do not bring this whistleblower to your attention lightly," Cummings said. "I have attempted to advance this investigation without exposing individuals to personal or professional risk. But the exceptionally troubling allegations in this case — combined with ongoing obstruction from the White House and others — have made this step necessary."
Cummings said Gowdy should subpoena the White House and the Flynn Intelligence Group, Flynn's former company, for documents that the House committee had requested in March but had not yet been provided. The subpoena to the White House should be for "all documents — including e-mails and text messages sent on personal devices" about Flynn's foreign contacts, payments and efforts to promote the proposal. Cummings said that Gowdy should subpoena Flynn, Copson and four others to testify before the panel.
Gowdy and Cummings have a long history of clashing publicly over politically charged investigations. Gowdy was the chairman of the special committee that investigated the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and Cummings was that panel's ranking member. As part of that investigation, Gowdy also scrutinized Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail account when she was secretary of state.
In the letter, Cummings appeared to try to anticipate an argument that Gowdy might make — that he cannot investigate the whistleblower's claims as long as Flynn was still under investigation by Mueller's team.
"As chairman of the Benghazi select committee, you pursued your investigation of Hillary Clinton during an ongoing criminal investigation," Cummings wrote.