WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The lawyer for former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn on Friday labeled as “outrageous” and “false” media reports suggesting his client may have been involved in an alleged plan to seize a Muslim cleric and deliver him to Turkey in exchange for millions of dollars.
The rare statement from lawyer Robert Kelner came after the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was investigating an alleged proposal under which Flynn and his son would receive up to $15 million for seizing Fethullah Gulen from his U.S. home and delivering him to the Turkish government.
The Journal cited people familiar with the investigation.
NBC also reported on Friday about an alleged December 2016 meeting, saying Mueller’s team was investigating whether Flynn met with senior Turkish officials in the weeks before President Donald Trump’s January 2017 inauguration about a possible quid pro quo in which Flynn would be paid to do the bidding of Turkey’s government while in office. NBC cited multiple people familiar with the probe.
“Out of respect for the process of the various investigations regarding the 2016 campaign, we have intentionally avoided responding to every rumor or allegation raised in the media,” Kelner said in an emailed statement.
“But today’s news cycle has brought allegations about General Flynn, ranging from kidnapping to bribery, that are so outrageous and prejudicial that we are making an exception to our usual rule: they are false.”
The Wall Street journal reported that the alleged plan involving Flynn and Turkish officials emerged during Mueller’s wider investigation of possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any collusion by the Trump campaign.
Flynn was fired by Trump after just 24 days in the job for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the extent of his conversations with then Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak last year.
Barry Coburn, a lawyer for Flynn’s son, Michael Flynn Jr., declined to comment.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accuses Gulen of instigating a failed coup in July 2016 and wants him extradited to Turkey to face trial. Gulen has denied any role in the coup.
A spokesman for Mueller’s team declined to comment on the report on Friday.
Flynn is a central figure in Mueller’s investigation because of conversations he had with Kislyak and because he waited until March to retroactively register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for work he did for a Turkish businessman.
The Journal reported that FBI agents asked at least four people about a December meeting in New York where Flynn and Turkish government representatives discussed removing Gulen, citing people with knowledge of the FBI’s inquiries.
NBC also reported that investigators had questioned witnesses about an alleged December meeting between Flynn and Turkish officials where Gulen was discussed. The group also discussed how to set free a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab. Zarrab is in prison in the United States on federal charges that he helped Iran skirt U.S. sanctions, NBC said.
A Reuters report on Oct. 26 said one of Flynn’s business associates, former CIA Director James Woolsey, pitched a $10 million contract to two Turkish businessmen to help discredit Gulen while Woolsey was an adviser to Trump’s election campaign.
Woolsey was a member of Flynn’s firm, the Flynn Intel Group, according to a Justice Department filing by the firm and an archive of the company’s website.
Mueller’s team has also interviewed White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, the highest-level Trump aide known to have spoken with investigators, CNN reported on Thursday.
(This story corrects to Friday from Thursday in first paragraph)
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Nathan Layne; Editing by Bernadette Baum and James Dalgleish)