'Button things up': Inside the secret campaign to distance a former NSA official from Michael Flynn's security team
From left to right: Former national security adviser Michael Flynn (Saul Loeb/AFP), Jim Penrose (Linkedin profile) and 1AP member Robert Patrick Lewis (screenshot/ NTD)

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story identified Mr. Penrose as a Trump administration official. However, records show he left the NSA in 2014. Raw Story regrets the error. This story has also been updated to remove statements by Andrew Kloster that he says were recorded without his consent, at his request.

In late 2020, Lt. General Michael Flynn sent a security team to the home of Staci Burk, an Arizona law student. The team leader asked Burk to prepare an affidavit with information about ballots on planes that could be used to support lawsuits filed by attorney Sidney Powell to overturn the 2020 election.

Members of the security team, part of a group called 1st Amendment Praetorian, took Burk’s cell phone against her will. She later learned that it turned up in Washington, DC a couple of days before Trump supporters overran the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Burk herself was not in DC in December 2020 and January 2021. She said in a court filing in February 2021 that she learned on Jan. 11 that her phone was at the Willard Hotel, which has been described as a “command center” of the effort to overturn the 2020 election.

The 1st Amendment Praetorian security team’s seven-week residency at Burk’s home upended her life. Burk fled her home, incurred financial debt, reassessed her beliefs about the election and struggled to repair her reputation as various conspiracy theorists in the election denial world assailed her credibility.

Burk’s ordeal with 1st Amendment Praetorian — better known by its initials 1AP — pulled her into the orbit of a dizzying array of pro-Trump actors, including Arizona politicians, conspiracy theorists and associates of Flynn and Powell.

In January 2022, almost one year after her cell phone was confiscated, a lawyer who served in the Trump White House Office of Presidential Personnel named Andrew Kloster reached out to Burk with an unusual request. He wanted a written statement from her disassociating a former National Security Agency official and Flynn associate from 1AP.

The request came just as the investigation of the House Select Committee to investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol was causing increasing unease among allies of the former president.

Kloster told Burk he was representing former NSA official Jim Penrose during the phone call earlier this year, which Raw Story is reporting for the first time. Kloster also indicated he was familiar with the former president’s interest in the widening congressional probe.

Described in his Federalist Society bio as “a longtime fixture of the conservative movement” who had worked at the Heritage Foundation, Kloster joined the Trump White House Office of Presidential Personnel in 2020. After Trump left office, Kloster served as chief of staff for a special counsel appointed by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to investigate the outcome of the 2020 election in Wisconsin.

“Well, yes,” Kloster told Burk during the January 2022 phone call, explaining why Penrose was concerned. “Yes. Because — because I think a lot of what’s happening now — again, having talked with different attorneys and people who were swept up in this whole mess — a lot of this now is groups like 1AP, other people, who, maybe they’re not totally bad but they’re self-interested. There are circles that are close to the president, and then further out, blah blah blah, and everybody starts shooting at each other, and then they try to blame people for things. And the more of that can be limited by the truth, the better because it limits the ability of these little s***head staffers to do a fishing expedition.”
Burk did not accede to Kloster’s request because she told him that would be a lie, and she said he did not contact her again.

Emails to the January 6th Committee for this story seeking clarification on whether Penrose is under scrutiny went unreturned.

According to a professional biography, Jim Penrose retired from the NSA as a senior-level defense intelligence analyst in 2014. Lin Wood, the defamation lawyer who collaborated with Powell to file election challenge lawsuits, has confirmed that Penrose joined Powell and Flynn at his South Carolina estate in November 2020 to work on the election, along with Seth Keshel, a former Army intelligence captain, and Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas who would later lead the partisan review of the Arizona election.

Jim Penrose says he's investigating on behalf of Powell and Wood roar-assets-auto.rbl.ms

Raw Story initially contacted Staci Burk in August 2021. She has continually expressed reluctance about going on the record due to her concern about ongoing threats from associates of Michael Flynn, including 1AP member Michael Kenny. She said she decided to give Raw Story access to the recording now because she feels the public has a right to know about matters important to democracy.

Robert Patrick Lewis, the 1AP cofounder, received a subpoena from the January 6th Committee in November 2021, requesting that he appear for a deposition and turn over documents. Lewis’ lawyer, Leslie McAdoo Gordon, has since indicated that Philip Luelsdorff, the other cofounder, and the organization itself have also been subpoenaed. Lewis appeared before the committee in April and invoked the Fifth Amendment, on his lawyer’s advice.

Citing a ruling by a federal judge in California that gave credence to an assertion made by the committee that President Trump participated in a criminal conspiracy to overturn the election, McAdoo Gordon said in a letter to the committee that the committee’s position puts pressure on the US Department of Justice to pursue charges.

“Thus, the committee’s theory creates a genuine risk of criminal exposure for anyone who may have, in the opinion of motivated prosecutors, assisted former President Trump or his supporters in any way as they contested the election results between November 2020 and January 6, 2021,” McAdoo Gordon wrote.

In an addendum provided to the committee in July, McAdoo Gordon confirmed that Joshua James, who has pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, was “a member of 1AP for a very short time in 2020.” James was charged as part of a conspiracy with other members of the Oath Keepers militia. McAdoo Gordon told the committee that James left 1AP after being advised he could not simultaneously be in the Oath Keepers and 1AP. She added that James was not a member of 1AP in January 2021 and has had no association with the group since that time.

‘This had the potential of blowing up all over the place’

Based on his conversations with Jim Penrose, Andrew Kloster told Burk he understood his client’s relationship with 1st Amendment Praetorian to be minimal.

“I talk with a lot of the people who were involved with different things, and I think — as far as I’m aware — as far as Jim has told me — I mean, his involvement is quite technical, was quite technical,” Kloster said. “So, he might have puffed himself up. It sounds like there are other circumstances where he puffed himself up that bit him in the ass, and maybe that’s what happened here. But I don’t think he’s as super connected — he knows a lot of people, don’t get me wrong — but he’s not as much of a mover and shaker as you might suppose.”

As previously reported by ProPublica, Penrose told Burk during a phone call in late December 2020 that he had spent $75,000 to pay former FBI agents to look into two separate allegations about potentially illegal ballots delivered by plane in Phoenix and Seattle.

“Let me be crystal clear: I’m investigating this on behalf of Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, right, the people that are going to take this right up to the president and the Supreme Court and work on these cases,” Penrose told Burk during that call.

The call, which Burk recorded, took place on Christmas day after she and a 1AP member named Brandon Pittman had returned from a local shooting range. According to an incident report by the Florence Police Department, Richard “Chi” Chichester, a former correctional officer from Massachusetts who was also a member of the 1AP security team, reported that two black SUVs had followed Burk home from the shooting range. The incident also prompted a phone call to Penrose.

The recording reveals that Penrose, who expressed concern about Burk independently investigating the two ballots-on-planes leads, set parameters and conditioned the 1AP security team’s continued presence at her home on her compliance.

“Here’s the deal: If we’re going to protect you, we need to have some kind of understanding about what the parameters are and the way you’re going to engage publicly and how you’re going to expose yourself to threats publicly,” Penrose said. “Because it’s all of us, right? We’re all in this together.”

Penrose added that anything Burk did — from picking up the phone to inviting someone into her home — was “impacting the guys in the room with you, and anybody who’s going to be assigned to your protective detail.”

Burk told Raw Story she turned over her recording of the phone call to the January 6th Committee in October 2021.

Raw Story reviewed more than 20 recordings — which Burk has not publicly shared — that provide a picture of how her cell phone was stolen and how it wound up at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, just before Jan. 6.

In recorded statements, Pittman and Chichester — the two 1AP members assigned as Burk’s protective detail at the time — have both admitted that her phone was stolen, while giving conflicting accounts of how it took place. In one of the recordings, Pittman told Burk that he learned that Chichester had her phone in Washington, DC.

Joe Flynn, Michael Flynn’s brother, corroborated the account in a phone call with Burk. When the matter was brought to his attention, Flynn indicated he turned to a man named Geoffrey Flohr for an explanation.

Flohr, whose nickname was “Yoda,” was a former Michigan State Police officer and former polygrapher with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Pittman described him as the “team leader,” and Chichester called him “the guy in charge.”

“Yoda told me that Chi took it out of your hands,” Flynn told Burk. “Or something like that. And when I heard that, I said, ‘What are these people doing taking somebody’s property without their permission?’”

Former NSA official Jim Penrose tells Staci Burk that her security is conditioned on her acting within certain "parameters." roar-assets-auto.rbl.ms

The precise reason why Burk’s phone was stolen and who, if anyone, ordered it remains unclear. Regardless, responsibility for the misdeed ultimately fell to Flohr, who also served in Michael Flynn’s personal security detail for his speech in front of the Supreme Court during the Jericho March on Dec. 12, 2020.

Chichester told Burk he encountered Flohr at the Willard hotel after Burk’s phone surfaced in DC.

“He just tapped me on the shoulder, didn’t say a f***ing thing, okay?” Chichester recounted. “And I was just watching him as he came past, all right? I was angry. I probably showed a little bit of anger in my face or something because I was pissed off at him because of the whole clusterf***…. Because of the whole thing — the stealing — the phone being stolen. The way he did things, it was just all f***ed up, and he was the guy in charge.”

James Curtis, a Marine Corps veteran who replaced Chichester on the 1AP protective detail at Burk’s house, also blamed Flohr.

“Seeing Yoda plan the theft of the phone — that by itself is problematic,” Curtis said. “But the timeline that sets this in motion and moves this off of you being a team player and to a target is knowing that on day one, they came asking for your phone.”

1AP team leader Geoffrey Flohr discusses the theft of Staci Burk's phone

In a call with Burk, Flohr told her he was told “to be quiet” about the phone debacle “because this had the potential of blowing up all over the place. You literally hold — I’m telling you right now — you literally hold 1A Praetorian in your hand. That’s how it’s viewed. But I wanted the f***ing truth.”

Flohr said he reported the matter to Matthew Wallach, a prominent 1AP member.

“We want to do the f***ing right thing,” Flohr said. “And it’s all on my shoulders. So, listen up. It’s all on my shoulder. I went and told him forty-five seconds after f***ing numb nuts there right next to you told me what it was. I went and drilled it right into the people that run this place. And I said, ‘We got to fix this. We gotta f***ing fix this.’ And they said, ‘Well, we’re gonna take it under advisement, get through the DC op, and then address it.’”

Flohr ended his involvement with 1AP shortly after Jan. 6, 2021. After the phone debacle, Pittman told Burk that Flohr’s departure was directly linked to the handling of her security detail.

“Because of the issues that we had with you, and the way that they were handled was a bunch of bulls***, and Yoda was the guy that was like, ‘This is a bunch of bulls***,’” Pittman told Burk. “And so, Yoda, like, shields me from a lot of flak, because I tell Yoda, and Yoda tells the bosses. The bosses hit back at Yoda, and then Yoda hits back at me, you know?”

As previously reported by Raw Story, Flohr was on the grounds at the US Capitol, along with a second 1AP member named Alan Kielan.

Leslie McAdoo Gordon, 1AP’s lawyer, said in a statement provided to the January 6th Committee in early July that she learned following Robert Patrick Lewis’s deposition that “two members of 1AP went with or followed the portion of the crowd from the Ellipse that went to the Capitol grounds.” McAdoo Gordon minimized Flohr and Kielan’s connection to the organization, writing, “They had already completed their work with 1AP at that time.” She added that the two men went to the Capitol “without the knowledge or approval of 1AP or Mr. Lewis.”

Flohr could not be reached for comment for this story.

After Burk’s phone was stolen, James Curtis made a prediction that, in hindsight, seems prescient. He also entertained the possibility that Penrose bore some responsibility for the theft.

“I don’t know Penrose, but if he’s self-serving enough to take your phone, he’s also self-serving enough to help fabricate tales about you that aren’t true,” Curtis said. “But right now, your actions are being defined probably — I’m making some assumptions here — your actions are being defined by whoever it was that wanted your phone. And so, your actions are not going to be defined in a way complimentary to you or the truth you understand, right? They’re going to be defined in ways that benefit whoever took your phone — presumably Penrose, right?”

When Kloster called Burk nearly a year later, she told him that's almost exactly what ended up happening.

“He pushes this out there: ‘She’s crazy, she’s this, she’s that,’" Burk said of Penrose. "And tries to discredit and do all of this stuff, which leads all of those minions who thought they were saving the country and all of that to then chase me out of town and dox and harass and threaten."

Penrose could not be reached for this story.

Reached by Raw Story by phone, Joe Flynn said he doesn’t know why Burk’s phone was stolen, but indicated he was surprised to hear Penrose’s name come up in connection with the episode.

“It was inconsequential,” Flynn said during a brief interview. “It doesn’t mean much to anybody.”

Joe Flynn has acknowledged his role in assigning the 1AP security team to Burk’s home.

“At the time we were working with 1st — 1A Praetorians,” Flynn said in an interview for the QAnon-aligned Patriot Voice channel on Telegram in January. “We were working with them for a very short period of time, just after the election when we were participating in the rallies in Washington. And their team provided General Flynn, myself, Sidney, Patrick [Byrne] and a few others security…. By the way, they provided that security free of charge. At the time, we didn’t have any money, so that was a benefit not having to pay that money. As I understand it, we sent a team out to watch over her out in Phoenix.”

Joe Flynn talks about 1st Amendment Praetorian and Staci Burk on the Patriot Voice channel on Telegram. www.youtube.com

Joe Flynn told Raw Story that his brother “didn’t have anything to do” with the decision to assign a security team to Burk, but Flohr gave a different account to Burk.

“It started with Joe,” he told Burk. “I got a call from him. He goes, ‘And we need ya in the Southwest.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ He says, ‘Hold on.’ And then Mike comes on the phone. He says, ‘Yoda, this is Mike Flynn. I need you to get to the Southwest for a whistleblower that we have down there. How long is it going to take you to get there?’ I said, ‘I haven’t been out to Arizona before.’ I said, ‘It’s going to take me a day and a half.’ He says, ‘Get going.’ And so, I did, because I had to pack my car. Two and a half hours later, I was on the road.”

Before 1AP’s arrival, a man named John Shattuck, who is linked to Michael Flynn through the Gold Institute for International Strategy, arranged for a local firm in Arizona called Mayhem Security Solutions to provide security for Burk.

Joe Flynn later explained to Burk that Mayhem was replaced because their fee was too expensive.

“We couldn’t afford it,” Flynn told Burk. “We weren’t going to be able to pay them. They wanted us to pay them thirty thousand dollars. We don’t have that kind of money. So, we said, ‘Okay, we got this other group who can do it for free.’”

‘If there’s going to be a second Trump term…’

Burk, who has since concluded there is no evidence of widespread election fraud, looked into two separate allegations about potentially illegal ballots on planes shortly after the Nov. 3, 2020 election. She said that Geoffrey Flohr, the team leader for the 1st Amendment Praetorian security detail at her house asked her to prepare an affidavit for Powell. Burk said assertions about extensive fraud by Powell and Michael Flynn helped convince her there must be something to the allegations of ballots on planes, which Powell herself mentioned in a speech at a Dec. 2, 2020 rally in Alpharetta, Ga.

“I listened to General Flynn and Sidney Powell say they had reliable evidence there were bad actors rigging the election and their team validated there was a great deal of corroborating evidence it was true and that I was in grave danger of being killed and needed a security team,” Burk said in a statement to Raw Story.

“Those were obviously lies,” Burk continued. “I believed the lies because, at the time, I thought, why else would they be taking the South Korean plane story so seriously when it was their associates who were on the ground with the plane taking video. I now see in their psyop I was a pawn, and it was much easier to raise money if they terrorized the witnesses and then said they needed money to protect the witnesses. I was just a pawn in their elaborate money-making venture,” Burk added.

Burk claims that in late December 2020, she had not been aware of a Dec. 18 meeting that took place at the White House in which Flynn, Powell and Byrne urged President Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and order the National Guard to seize voting machines.

“It was my understanding Trump had a plan, and I trusted that,” Burk said. “As things came to light, I now see everything their associates did with me between November 2020 and May 2021 was all gaslighting, cover up and narrative control with an ends-justifying-the-means mentality and little care or concern for how their actions terrified my family and disrupted our lives.”

Joe Flynn said in a text to Raw Story that his brother was not interested in responding.

“This is a story about nonsense and nothing,” he said, “and anyone who reads Raw Story needs to get a mental exam.”

Sydney Powell could not be reached for this story.

Despite describing Penrose as a “contractor” during the period he engaged with 1AP, Kloster also suggested to Burk that his client’s relationship with Michael Flynn was insignificant.

“He knew General Flynn,” Kloster said. “He knew who he was. They had some communication. There was no hand in glove. He didn’t report to him, or vice-versa.”

Kloster also dismissed the notion that Penrose was working on behalf of President Trump, telling Burk: “I’m a little bit closer to some of that stuff. I kind of know — yeah, that’s a little bit, uh, that’s on the order of puffing up, for sure, yeah.”

Kloster did not return messages for this story. But in a post on Telegram in early July, he announced a new project to protect the professional reputations of so-called “America First” public servants.

“We’re just getting started, but if you’re looking to assist in giving our conservative public servants the tools they need to survive attack, pls look at this new org run by our former WH staff,” Kloster wrote.

The website for Personnel Policy Operations describes the new nonprofit’s foundational precept as a belief that conservative public servants targeted for “persecution” by “the radical left, corporate media, tech companies, leftwing NGOs and other activists” need support in order to succeed, while warning that without a robust safety net, “others will be deterred from entering public service in the first place, or from taking real action for their country.”

Kloster recently spoke up in defense of Kenneth Klukowski, a former senior counsel to Trump Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark. Kuklowski reportedly helped Clark draft a letter to state officials in Georgia in late December 2020 requesting that they delay certifying their votes to allow time for federal prosecutors to investigate election fraud allegations.

“The January 6th investigation is all about attacking mid-level and senior staff like Ken, to ensure that we don’t have a farm team in 2024, no matter who the president is,” Kloster told The Federalist last month. “This isn’t about the truth, but about making it impossible for conservatives to successfully enter and leave government.”

In a recent Axios report, Kloster was named as part of a group of “former Trump administration and transition officials working on personnel, legal or policy projects for a potential 2025 government.”

Jack Posobiec, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a political operative who is “known primarily for creating and amplifying viral disinformation campaigns,” praised Kloster’s Personnel Policy Operation while filling in as a host on the “War Room” show for former White House strategist Steve Bannon on July 1. (Bannon was convicted of contempt of Congress on July 22 for refusing to cooperate with the January 6th Committee.)

“We’ve got the precinct project that’s going on here from the War Room,” Posobiec told Kloster. “That’s precinct by precinct across the country. We’ve got the dismantling of the administrative state. That’s the other project. But what you just said, I think, is one of the most important lessons, shall we say, from the first Trump term, which is that personnel is policy.

“If there is going to be a second Trump term — and that’s basically been kind of the theme of this show today — that this key office, the PPO and the staffers across the government, right, getting into the administrative state and wrestling down with Leviathan.

”During his January 2022 phone call with Staci Burk, Kloster indicated that Jim Penrose was eager to put time assisting in the effort to challenge the election behind him.

“I mean, Jim, he’s in a different place now,” Kloster told Burk. “He does talk about a lot of that election stuff as — he had a weird second life basically for a couple months. But he seems very buttoned down now.”