Journalists grilled White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer during Friday’s press briefing over reports Mike Flynn lobbied on behalf of a Turkish company, demanding to know when Donald Trump became aware of that his former national security adviser worked as a foreign agent.
On Wednesday, Politico reported that Flynn retroactively registered the $530,000 he made as a lobbyist for a Turkish-linked firm before and immediately following the 2016 election. According to the Associated Press, during the transition, Flynn’s lawyers told Trump’s team the retired general may need to register as a foreign agent. Still, the White House maintains the president was not aware that Flynn needed to register.
Asked if Trump was “warned at all” about Flynn’s work as a foreign agent, or if the arrangement set off any “alarm bells” with the president, Spicer replied that Flynn only filed with the Department of Justice on Wednesday, asking “how would anyone know” he was lobbying for Turkey. He also argued it was “not up for the government to determine” whether a private citizen (which Flynn was at the time) has to file a disclosure about specific activities.
“How did that not raise a red flag?” Fox News correspondent John Roberts pressed, as Spicer tried to move on. “You have an attorney calling the transition team saying that the person in line to be the national security adviser may need to register as a foreign agent and that doesn't raise a red flag?”
Spicer argued it’s “not a question of raising a red flag,” insisting it’s not legal or appropriate for the government to “start going into private citizens seeking advice and telling them what they have to register or not.”
“This is an issue of judgment about who you guys wanted in your administration,” New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush pointed out. “If there were published reports that the potential national security adviser had dealings with the government of Turkey—a controversial regime at this moment in time—and Congressman [Elijah] Cummings (D-MD) sent a letter to Mike Pence during the transition informing him of this and raising a red flag … What does this say about the transition team's judgment about still appointing him as national security adviser when you had knowledge of this information?”
Spicer then launched into a semantic argument, professing his inability to “forget about the legalisms” because all the administration asks is that “people … follow the law.”
“We’re talking about the judgment of the president, the vice president, and your team made to select this man as a national security adviser when you had information he had these dealings with Turkey,” Thrush explained.
Spicer was later asked if Flynn’s retroactive disclosure raises concerns “there may be other members of this administration … that were or are currently lobbying on behalf of foreign governments right now?”
We trust people to fill out the appropriate forms,” Spicer said, adding he doesn’t think NBC checks out “every single person and reporter’s background,” so why should the government?
“We did the right thing then, Spicer said. “And we expect every employee to follow the law.”
“The president has high standards for everyone that works in this administration,” the press secretary added.
Watch the clip below, via CNN: