Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating an alleged plan in which former White House National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million in a plot to seize Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and deliver him to Turkish officials, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the investigation.
FBI agents have asked at least four people about a meeting in mid-December where Flynn and Turkish government representatives allegedly discussed capturing Gulen, who's in exile in the U.S., the Journal said, citing people it didn't identify who are familiar with the FBI's inquiries. At the time, President-elect Donald Trump already had announced that Flynn, a top campaign supporter and foreign policy aide, would serve as the White House national security adviser.
Flynn's attorney, Robert Kelner, issued a statement calling the claims "outrageous and prejudicial" and saying, "they are false."
The investigation into Flynn is part of Mueller's probe into whether Trump campaign advisers colluded in Russian interference into the 2016 U.S. election. Investigators are also looking into whether Flynn's work on behalf of Turkey violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires people to disclose work for foreign governments.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded the extradition of his archenemy Gulen, blaming him for a 2016 coup attempt allegedly orchestrated from the U.S. Turkey has failed to provide sufficient evidence for a judge to approve extradition, according to U.S. officials.
A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment.
The alleged December meeting followed one on Sept. 19 attended by people including Berat Albayrak, who is Turkey's energy minister and the son-in-law of Erdogan, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, according to the Journal. It was then that Turkish officials first raised the possibility of forcibly removing Gulen, the Journal reported.
Flynn's talks with Turkish officials allegedly involved a plan to forcibly take Gulen, who lives in a compound in Pennsylvania, to a private jet and fly him to the Turkish prison island of Imrali, the Journal reported, citing a person it didn't name. There's no indication any money was exchanged as part of that plan, it said.
"We don't have any evidence that such a meeting took place," the newspaper quoted a spokesman for the Trump transition process as saying. "And if it did take place it happened notwithstanding the transition."
Flynn resigned as Trump's national security adviser on Feb. 13 after only 24 days on the job. In his resignation letter he apologized to the president for giving "incomplete information" about his interactions with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Participation in an effort to snatch Gulen in the U.S. could expose Flynn to an assortment of federal charges. If prosecutors can prove Flynn and his associates took concrete steps to act on such a plan, it could result in charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping even though Gulen wasn't abducted, said Patrick Cotter, a Chicago defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor.
Flynn could even face charges of violating counterespionage laws if prosecutors established he was accepting undisclosed payments at the same time he was receiving classified security briefings as part of the Trump transition, Cotter said.
"The disclosure law is designed to separate legitimate foreign lobbyists from spies," Cotter said. "Because when you get down to it, if you're a foreign agent being paid by a foreign government and no one knows it, you're a spy."