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Corruption

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn

Photo by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is among the many allies of Donald Trump who faced criminal charges and was granted a presidential pardon while the former president was still in the White House. Flynn's foreign interactions were a major source of controversy during the Trump years, and according to Guardian reporter Murray Waas, Flynn was warned about accepting foreign money even before Trump was elected president in 2016.

The office of the Defense Department's inspector general, Waas reports, "has uncovered evidence that Michael Flynn accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreign interests and governments, despite repeated warnings by the DoD and the Justice Department that his conduct might be illegal."

In 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. But Trump defended Flynn vigorously, claiming that his former national security adviser was a victim of political persecution from "the deep state."

"While pleading guilty in 2017," Waas explains, "Flynn also admitted to committing another crime: related to his acceptance of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the government of Turkey without registering with the Justice Department as an agent of a foreign government, which was required by law. Now, according to people familiar with the confidential findings of the recently completed IG investigation, The Guardian can reveal Flynn was warned years earlier that his acceptance of foreign money and his not registering as a foreign agent likely would be illegal."

Waas adds, "Moreover, Flynn's conduct occurred while he was a private citizen, long before Trump became president. Taken together, this appears to constitute powerful new evidence discrediting Trump and Flynn's claims of political persecution by those opposed to Trump's agenda."

Trump launched his 2016 presidential campaign in 2015, and according to Waas' reporting, Flynn was first warned about accepting foreign money in 2014. Flynn resigned as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in August 2014.

"The new disclosures portray how a former military officer, despite his training to obey rules and orders, was instead driven by personal profit to break the law," Waas reports. "The Defense Intelligence Agency first warned Flynn, in an 8 October, 2014 letter, that his acceptance of foreign money might be a potential violation of federal law, as well as the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which similarly prohibits such foreign payments to government officials." In that letter, the DIA warned Flynn, "The Emoluments Clause.… as interpreted in Comptroller General opinions, and by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel, prohibits receipt of consulting fees, gifts, travel expenses, honoraria, or salary by all retired military personnel" from foreign interests.

Flynn received another warning on November 30, 2016 — this time, from the Department of Justice. At issue was his work for a lobbyist for the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an authoritarian who has gone to great lengths to undermine the system of checks and balances in what was once one of the more democratic countries in the Middle East. Flynn, according to Waas, was warned that he might be violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.

But despite that "warning not to take foreign money," Waas notes, Flynn "still accepted $45,000 from RT — a Kremlin-controlled media organization described by…. intelligence agencies as the 'Kremlin's principal international propaganda outlet' — $22,000 from other Russian interests, and $530,000 to serve as a lobbyist for Turkey. And despite the warning from the Justice Department, Flynn did not comply with the FARA statute."

Clark Cunningham, a professor at the Georgia State University College of Law and expert on the Constitution's Emoluments Clause, told The Guardian, "There is little doubt that money received by Flynn to lobby on behalf of the Turkish government or to promote Russian interests would be considered emoluments."

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Rep. Matt Gaetz

Photo by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

In a self-serving op-ed published earlier this week, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz warned that there would be a "drip drip drip" of new information accusing him of various and sundry acts. It was a nice warning, though really not necessary. After all, Gaetz is nothing if not 300 lbs. of putrescence in a 200-lb. bag. There are going to be leaks.

What's already been made clear is that Gaetz was deeply connected for an extended period, with indicted sex trafficker Joel Greenberg. The two were apparently involved in manufacturing false IDs for underage girls. Gaetz bragged on Greenberg's ability to secure women for sex. In turn, Gaetz also reportedly procured women for other Republican officials. Gaetz also had a proclivity for showing nude photos and videos of his supposed conquests to fellow Republicans in Congress. Meanwhile, his staff was sending more videos of Gaetz's exploits to their counterparts around town. And all this videography followed Gaetz's taking the lead in an attempt to defeat a bill banning revenge porn, because he was dedicated to the idea that once he had an "intimate" image of someone, he should be able to use it however he wanted.

In short, every Republican official in both Florida and Washington seemed to know everything that Matt Gaetz was up to. All of them are now claiming they never liked it. None of them did a damned thing about it.

And the latest drip to escape that big bag of corruption is that Gaetz tried to get Donald Trump to give him a "preemptive pardon" for every crime he's committed, and to give more pardons to all his sex trafficking pals. And interestingly, Gaetz apparently asked for pardons for some other members of Congress.

As The New York Times reported on Tuesday evening, even as Gaetz was singing along with the "Trump won" chorus, he was also chasing his hero around the White House, begging for shelter from the coming storm. Gaetz complained that there was a "bloodlust" among his political opponents, and because of that he would need a "broad pardon" that included "unidentified congressional allies."

What these other members of Congress may have done that made it necessary to hand them all Get Out of Jail Free cards isn't clear. Though there's some suspicion that Gaetz may have included other Trump favorites in his pardon request to "camouflage" the fact that Gaetz was about to need a whole lot of pardoning all on his own. What Trump thought of this was also unclear, but White House lawyers seemed to have turned Gaetz away—and there are people who okayed extensive pardons for both Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.

A Gaetz spokesman has issued a statement denying that the Florida Republican ever asked for a pardon. Which, because every aspect of this affair demands to be simply bizarre, is based on the idea that Gaetz was always asking for pardons: "… he called for President Trump to pardon 'everyone from himself, to his administration, to Joe Exotic.'" So clearly Gaetz never asked Trump to pardon anyone, because he was on record asking Trump to pardon everyone.

The Times also quotes Gaetz as bragging about how often he was in contact with Trump. In listing all the places, Gaetz says he answered a Trump call while "in the throes of passion." However, he doesn't say whether that passion involved a school girl flown cross country on a fake ID. Gaetz also says he took a call from Trump while "on the throne." One has to suspect there may have been a large amount of grunting on both ends of that call.

As ABC News notes, even in a White House that was regularly handing out broad pardons to pals who had committed everything from tax fraud to threatening murder, Gaetz's request would have been pretty out there. In asking for a preemptive pardon that would absolve him of any crimes charged, Gaetz was essentially asking for permission to go forth and crime all he wanted. There are real questions as to whether the "unlimited" power of presidential pardons is quite that unlimited.

It's not certain if Trump knew about the Justice Department investigation into Gaetz when the pardon request came in. However, it certainly seems that Gaetz knew the jig was soon to be up.

Meanwhile, Politico has more details on Greenberg. That includes his penchant for dressing the employees at his tax assessment office in body armor and requiring them to carry weapons. That includes going armed to business conferences. Greenberg also installed—at taxpayer expense—a sprinkler system expressly so he could soak protesters by remote control. And he handed out unprecedentedly fat contracts to his friends, after running a campaign talking about "draining the swamp" and "ending crony capitalism." Add in rampant racism, islamophobia, and endless misogyny, and Greenberg seems like the very model of the modern Republican.

Greenberg has managed to pick up at least 33 indictments. How many of those will also end up being applied to Gaetz is still to be determined, but as a Florida attorney who worked for one of Greenberg's opponents said, this isn't a story just about Gaetz, or even about Gaetz and Greenberg. "Ultimately, it's about abuse of power and how the Republican Party lost its way with guys like this. ... They're the embodiment of Trumpism."