In an Attempt to Absolve Mike Flynn, Eli Lake Accidentally (and Erroneously) Accuses Flynn of “Outright Espionage,” Then Lies about the Evidence

As part of the campaign to magnify the cover story for Mike Flynn, Eli Lake has written a long, prettily edited piece laying out the same narrative everyone else uses. It has drawn applause from the typical facilitators of gaslighting: Maggie Haberman, Jonathan Swan, and Pepe the Frog.

But it also got plaudits from someone who normally cares about accuracy and facts as much as pretty narrative, Noah Shachtman, which led me to do a long thread pointing out all the times Eli misrepresented the record or outright lied about it. You can read that thread or read the post I did on Glenn Greenwald’s attempt to defend Flynn and Bill Barr, because Eli makes many of the same false claims that Glenn did, as if there’s a script these men are working from.

Unlike Glenn, though, Eli performs the entire Logan Act part of the script. He claims, as if reading from a Sidney Powell script, that the FBI researched the Logan Act solely to keep any case against Flynn alive.

Bringing up this old chestnut suggests that the FBI was looking for any conceivable pretext to keep its Flynn hunt alive. To that end, the FBI officer overseeing the Flynn case, Peter Strzok, eagerly provided a Congressional Research Service report on the history and utility of the Logan Act to FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who was working in the office of Comey’s deputy, Andrew McCabe.1 In his 2019 memoir, McCabe writes that in “high-level discussion at the relevant agencies and at Justice, the question arose: Was this a violation of the Logan Act?”

And then he points to two more references to the Logan Act in support of a claim that the FBI was considering it.

Then Eli steps in it.

Eli then turns to the scope memo describing what potential crimes Mueller was investigating in 2017, makes no mention that there were four things on the list (none of which are the Logan Act), but does claim the FBI was investigating one of two things: the Logan Act, or “outright espionage.”

Moreover, a recently declassified “scope memo” on the Mueller probe—a document defining the range of issues Mueller was to examine—drafted on August 2, 2017, by then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authorized Mueller’s team to investigate whether Flynn had “committed a crime or crimes by engaging in conversations with Russian government officials during the period of the Trump transition.” The only crime or crimes that could be found in this case would either be outright espionage or a violation of the Logan Act.

Here’s the document in which Eli claims to see Flynn investigated for “outright espionage.”

Somehow, Eli skips the opening memo for the Flynn investigation, which names the crimes actually under investigation in August 2016 (and still, on January 24, 2017, along with the Logan Act): FARA and 18 USC 951. Had Eli examined that memo, his entire Logan Act canard would have been clear, and his silence about the evidence showing that the Flynn interview always prioritized Foreign Agent component would be more damning.

The goal of the investigation is to determine the captioned subject, associated with the Trump Team, is being directed and controlled by and/or coordinating activities with the Russian Federation in a manner which may be a threat to the national security and/or possibly a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, 18 U.S.C section 951 et seq, or other related statutes.

It is true that early in 2017, the FBI had decided Flynn’s calls with Russia did not make him a Foreign Agent of Russia (though later obtained evidence may have changed that view). And the Foreign Agent investigation listed in the 2017 memo focused on Flynn’s hidden relationship with Turkey, not Russia.

Nevertheless, in an attempt to defend Flynn, Eli Lake either lies or appears to describe 18 USC 951 as “outright espionage.”

If 18 USC 951 is “outright espionage,” as Eli claims, then an “outright espionage” charge is what Flynn was avoiding when he pled guilty to the false statement charge that Eli is now misrepresenting. Here’s how Brandon Van Grack explained that to Judge Emmet Sullivan at Flynn’s aborted sentencing in 2018.

THE COURT: I think that’s fair. I think that’s fair. Your answer is he could have been charged in that [EDVA] indictment.

MR. VAN GRACK: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: And that would have been — what’s the exposure in that indictment if someone is found guilty?

MR. VAN GRACK: Your Honor, I believe, if you’ll give me a moment, I believe it was a conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. 371, which I believe is a five-year offense. It was a violation of 18 U.S.C. 951, which is either a five- or ten-year offense, and false statements — under those false statements, now that I think about it, Your Honor, pertain to Ekim Alptekin, and I don’t believe the defendant had exposure to the false statements of that individual.

THE COURT: Could the sentences have been run consecutive to one another?

MR. VAN GRACK: I believe so.

THE COURT: So the exposure would have been grave, then, would have been — it would have been — exposure to Mr. Flynn would have been significant had he been indicted?

MR. VAN GRACK: Yes. And, Your Honor, if I may just clarify. That’s similar to the exposure for pleading guilty to 18 U.S.C. 1001.

THE COURT: Right. Exactly. I’m not minimizing that at all. It’s a five-year felony.

MR. VAN GRACK: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Excuse me one second. (Brief pause in proceedings.)

THE COURT: Yes, Counsel.

MR. VAN GRACK: Your Honor, I’d clarify that the maximum penalty for 18 U.S.C. 951 is a ten-year felony and five years —

According to Flynn’s own sworn statement, that 15 year sentence is what Covington’s lawyers advised he might be facing if he didn’t take a plea deal that (if Flynn behaved) would result in probation.

November 16, 2017, was the first day of the proffer with the SCO. That same evening, after concluding the first proffer, we returned to the Covington offices where my attorneys told me that the first day’s proffer did not go well and then proceeded to talk me through a litany of conceivable charges I was facing and told me that I was looking at the possibility of “fifteen years in prison.”

That Eli considers Flynn’s exposure to 18 USC 951 because he was secretly on Turkey’s payroll “outright espionage” is telling, because — way at the end of the story, as if the Turkish investigation didn’t happen in parallel with the Russian one — Eli finally gets around to mentioning it. When he does, Eli outright lies about the record on Flynn’s work for Turkey. First, he lies that Inovo was the client, not Turkey.

The reason that Flynn put his name to something he knew was not true was that Mueller’s investigators were squeezing him on an unrelated matter.

In August 2016, Flynn took a contract to represent a Dutch firm known as Inovo BV on a project aimed at investigating and defaming Fetullah Gulen, a charismatic Turkish cleric who had become a mortal enemy of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and was living in exile in Pennsylvania. In 2016, Erdogan survived a military coup he blamed on Gulen’s followers. Erdogan’s regime sought Gulen’s extradition back to Turkey, where he would almost certainly have faced the death penalty.

Taking that contract showed horrendous judgment on Flynn’s part. He was the Trump campaign’s national-security adviser and had no business getting himself in the middle of this. That said, it was a potential political problem for Trump, not the national-security threat that many in the resistance now say it was. It’s fair game for journalists and Democrats to make a stink about the Inovo contract. But it was highly unusual for Flynn’s missteps in this case to be the basis for a criminal prosecution on the grounds that Flynn had violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

According to Flynn’s grand jury testimony — almost the only sworn statement that Flynn has not reneged on yet — the work was always being done for Turkey.

Q From the beginning of the project what was your understanding about on whose behalf the work was going to be performed?

A I think at the — from the beginning it was always on behalf of elements within the Turkish government.


Q Did he ever mention to you that the project had significantly changed in any way? A He not, no. No, we pretty much stayed on the same track.

Q Did he ever mention to you that the principal beneficiary of the project had changed?

A He did not. He did not, no.


Q Let me finish the question if you it be fair to say, as you testified would, General. So would earlier, that the principal beneficiary was the government of Turkey?

A Yes.

Q Or these high-government officials?

A Yeah.

Q Did he ever mention to you that that principal beneficiary or those principal beneficiaries had changed throughout the project ?

A No, no.

Flynn’s testimony describes how, after Ekim Alptekin said the Turkish clients had given him permission to discuss “confidentiality” and budget with Flynn, just days before Flynn sat in on his first classified candidate briefing with Trump, the named client changed to Inovo.

Q Do you see the first part of the email where Mr. Alptekin says, “Gentlemen, I just finished in Ankara after several meetings today with Min. of Economy Zeybekci and M.F.A. Cavusoglu. I have a green light to discuss confidentiality, budget, and the scope of the contract”?

A Mm-hmm.

Q Is this email an example of how Turkish government officials provided the initial approval for the project?

A Sure is.

Q Originally what was the planned source of funding for the project?

A Initially I was told that the Turkish government would likely — you know, may fund it. And then it changed when that came back that they would not fund it, that it would be funded, you know, via different means, via Ekim’s business, basically.

Q Who told you that the Turkish may fund the project originally?

A Bijan. Conversations we had.

Q Do you recall the name of Mr. Alpteikin’s company?

A Inovo.

Not only does Eli outright lie about whom Flynn was working for, he misrepresents the source of Flynn’s registration problems, the reason they became so acute he faced 15 years in prison over them.

Flynn had initially registered the Inovo contract in August 2016 through a less stringent law known as the Lobbying Disclosure Act. He did so on the advice of his counsel at the time. And when Flynn took the contract, that advice was sound. The legal environment for FARA registrations was quite permissive at the time. But at the end of 2017, and with Mueller in hot pursuit and with unlimited resources, Flynn—and his son, Michael Jr.—could have found themselves facing years in prison. So Flynn, in financial ruin and wishing to get his son out of Mueller’s crosshairs, agreed to cooperate.

Eli doesn’t explain that in March 2017, after Trump had been elected, after Flynn had engaged, as incoming National Security Advisor, in discussions about a Russian-Turkish peace plan for Syria, after Flynn had been fired for hiding details of his conversations with Russia, Flynn registered under FARA, but even then lied about having worked for the Turkish government until days before he became National Security Advisor.

This was not, as Eli falsely portrays, about misrepresenting work for a foreign company. It wasn’t even just that, as Flynn, with his Top Secret clearance, was sitting in on Trump’s first classified briefing, he was also inking a deal to secretly work for Turkey. It’s that Flynn continued to lie about it, even in his official FARA filing in March 2017.

And claimed national security hawk Eli Lake, in a bid to make Flynn look less sketchy, repeats the very same lies that got Flynn in such deep legal trouble, Flynn’s cover story for his relationship with the government of Turkey.

It’s one thing to work for foreign entities and hide that fact if you’re a washed out campaign pro, as Paul Manafort was when he hid that he was secretly working for Ukraine’s ruling oligarchs for years. It’s another thing to sit in on classified briefings with a man running for President while hiding that you’re in talks with Turkish government ministers for a half-million dollar deal.

Eli, in a moment of candor or sloppiness, called this “outright espionage.”

That’s Eli’s representation, not mine. In reality, 18 USC 951 is more ambivalent than that, covering a range of secret relationships with foreign governments. But if the facts of Flynn’s relationship weren’t so damning, then why did Eli lie so aggressively to hide them?

Update: Meanwhile, Flynn’s Turkish handler is outraged that the IC might have read his communications with Flynn.

30 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    So much for the not a serious crime or jeopardy bullshit from his defenders. WTF walks on a probable probation deal in the face of a possible fifteen year sentence (ignoring the potential for added time on other charges)?

    Flynn’s extreme beliefs, his arrogance and bad judgment are what got him fired as DIA. Any one of Flynn’s lies should have deprived him of his security clearance, ending his public employment and any legitimate government consulting work. Their persistence and pattern – and underlying conduct – made him a criminal. Prisons are full of people who harmed society much less.

  2. Rugger9 says:

    It will be interesting to see how Judge Neomi Rao tries to justify this in her upcoming dissent.

    • What Constitution? says:

      Not really. The only thing interesting about what Judge Neomi Rao is going to say is how many times it will include the word “Benghazi”.

  3. harpie says:

    Had Eli examined that memo, his entire Logan Act canard would have been clear […]

    I haven’t read all of the interview transcripts and everything. What I have read is the Sally Yates [still quite redacted] House Intelligence Committee testimony. It seems clear that sometime between Yates’ first meeting with McGahn about Flynn and the meeting on the next day, someone decided that they had to make the Flynn story about the Logan Act.

    • harpie says:

      Interview Transcript of Sally Yates (November 3, 2017)

      MR. SCHIFF: No, that makes sense. ls it fair to say that Mr. McGahn didn’t seem to get what you were trying to communicate, that this was a national security problem for the administration; that his impression was this was a concern you had over General Flynn’s liability under [p86] the Logan Act?

      MS. YATES: You know, I can’t get inside his head so I can’t say whether he got it or whether he was just trying to diminish the significance of it, because he sure seemed like he got it when we left the first day, you know, the day before.

      And when I told him this is not about whether DOJ is going to prosecute Mike Flynn under the Logan Act and, you know, went back through all the reasons that I described a minute ago as to why we were there, why we were giving them this information so they could act – because we kept emphasizing that we’re telling you this so that you can take the action that you deem appropriate – I don’t know if he didn’t appreciate the significance or he was just trying to push it into a different box. […]

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Trump must have been pissed at the immediate exposure the legitimate monitoring of Flynn posed to him and his ability to carry on his sycophantic relationship with Russia. As Trump has admitted, he planned to monetize the presidency for his personal benefit. Any competent government would detect and attempt to curtail that, preferably at the periphery so as not to be forced into a direct attack on the president.

      Trump could imagine doing nothing else with the presidency, so changing tack toward a more traditional, less illegal model was out of the question. Plus, he’s stupid and stubborn.

      It would appear that McGahn and others quickly picked up on Trump’s priorities and methods, and began hiding and protecting immediately. Yates’s experience attests to that. Trump culled courtiers who failed to get with the program, and dismantled people and bits of government as they posed threats or got in the way.

      Much of the destruction of government is obvious, but the truly frightening bits may not be apparent until after he leaves office. The process for getting rid of him will be one of them. LOL when I think of the shock and horror the Bushies created over their false claim that Bill Clinton’s staff removed the Ws from the White House keyboards. When Trump leaves, DC will look like 1814, after the British left.

      Among the things we know nothing about – apart from who paid well over a million bucks to bail out Brett Kavanaugh (and what they got in return) – is how much money Trump is making. His DC hotel and other properties will be peanuts.

      We don’t know, for example, what happened to the fabulous sums collected for his inaugural. We don’t know what side deals he’s worked since: his deregulatory agenda and leasing of public lands, and so on, will have come at a price, though. We don’t know how Trump has monetized the RNC, which he controls. It raises ungodly amounts of money. We don’t know what countries have bankrolled various projects to curry favor with the Don, or what machinations Jared has gotten into. His nominal jobs are probably cover for monetizing everything in sight. It will require a truth and reconciliation commission to sort out the most egregious ones.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        You said it, earl: “ungodly.” I don’t think there’s any ‘probably’ about it: Kushner’s been ransacking the gig for all it’s worth since day one. I wish I believed any sort of truth and reconciliation were coming, but in the event they lose office my expectation is that our exhaustion and the wreckage they are leaving in their wake will compel an undeserved forgiveness.

      • BD Mac says:

        “It raises ungodly amounts of money”

        Let’s get it right; unGODly amounts.

        Watching it all.

        Thanks for your reminders brother.

        Not much suffering and pain 2 go.

        The pendulum swings.

  4. PeterS says:

    If I were trying to be fair to MH and JS, I’d note that they acknowledge it’s “Flynn’s side of the case” and a “pro- Flynn argument”.

    But I guess this is what’s wrong with so much of the media, the fetish for “both sides”. There can be two sides to an argument, not to truth and facts.

    • BobCon says:

      A big part of the problem is that people like Haberman are theater critics trying to judge the historical accuracy of a biography of Henry V.

      They’re just aware enough of some of the facts of the story to pass judgment, but at a loss as to whether the full account makes any sense.

      And they come from a field that overlays highly subjective takes over objective observations while rarely maintaining any systematic rigor. Which means that they can’t even articulate why they are convinced by an argument. They simple know that it hits certain beats, uses certain phrases, and follows an established form, so it must be valid. Or not, if it somehow fails to clear subjective hurdles.

    • Michael Welch says:

      I’ve said there’s going to be one hell of a mess to clean up when he leaves office if he hasn’t already destroyed our constitution

      • David says:

        Sow this comment approved, mine about the lack of predicate gets banned. Whatever you need to tell yourself folks.

        • Rayne says:

          I’m letting this comment through for one reason: you are not only trashing contributors without providing well reasoned rebuttals, you are sockpuppeting. That’s why your comments aren’t clearing moderation. We have zero obligation to publish crap which does not further reasoned discussion.

          Away with you.

          EDIT: Looks like I need to whip this out not once but twice inside 24 hours.

          source: xkcd on Free Speech (ep. 1357)

          Things frowned upon here include but not limited to: deliberate sockpuppeting, ad hominem attacks on contributors and/or commenters, (far-fetched) claims without substantiation, behavior denying other commenters’ use of comment thread, behavior undermining site integrity and/or or users’ security.

          Long-time blogger and citizen journalist Lisa Williams once explained that her blog was like her living room; she expected commenters to behave as they would in her living room. This seems a perfect rule of thumb — not overly specific but easy to understand. This might be a fairly raucous living room but hosts and guests alike don’t care for the jerk who does something nasty in the punch bowl.

          And it’s especially frowned upon for strangers to walk in off the street, not make an effort to develop a rapport with the community, and then doody in the pool.

          Just plain bad manners in real life and in comment space. Thanks to our community members who make this a place where we only infrequently need to throw participants out of the pool.

          Because many of the commenters here have been here and participated with regularity in the community, there’s give-and-take including casual chatter between seasoned members and contributors/moderators. Jumping both feet into a discussion between folks with a long history and taking liberties they have earned with each other causes friction.

          And jumping in making exclamations without any supporting material on an initial foray here having also attempted to sockpuppet, followed by repeated demands earns the boot out the door.

          Apologies to our seasoned regulars for another interruption in your discussion.


            • Rayne says:

              My guess based on the other screeds in moderation: the troll was flailing at the keyboard, committing a typo in the process. Completely unwilling to make a reasoned case for lack of predicate.

              Not worth your energy, Molly, nor mine.

              • Molly Pitcher says:

                Well according to Norse and Scandinavian folklore, trolls are afraid of lightening and sunlight turns them into a piece of the landscape, like perhaps a big rock.

                You are the lightening and the sunlight here Rayne !!

                • Rayne says:

                  I will have to ask my mother who is half Finn if she ever heard any myths about trolls, lightning, and sun. I know one of the main Finnish pagan gods was Ukko, comparable to the Norse god Thor. Ukko had a hammer called Ukonvasara, like Thor’s Mjölnir.

                  Guess I’m going to have to get out my little hammer and go to town. :-)

                    • ducktree says:

                      Anna Russell has the Rx:

                      I went to my psychiatrist to be psychoanalyzed
                      To find out why I killed the cat and blacked my husband’s eye.

                      He laid me on a downy couch to see what he could find,
                      And here’s what he dredged up, from my subconscious mind.

                      When I was one, my mummy hid my dolly in a trunk
                      And so it follows, naturally, that I am always drunk.

                      When I was two, I saw my father kiss the maid one day,
                      and that is why I suffer from kleptomania.

                      At three I had a feeling of ambivalence towards my brothers
                      and so it follows naturally I poisoned all my lovers.

                      but I am happy now I have learned the lessons this has taught:
                      Everything I do that’s wrong, is someone else’s fault!

                      Written by Anna Russell

  5. Molly Pitcher says:

    I take anything on The Hill with a substantial amount of salt, but this seems to be on the up and up:

    FBI director Wray orders internal review of Flynn case

    “The bureau announced in a statement that the after-action review will have two objectives: Evaluate whether there was any misconduct or errors made by bureau officials during the course of their investigation, and to determine whether there are ways to improve FBI policies and procedures.

    The FBI said its Inspection Division will lead the review, which will “complement” the work of U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen, who is reviewing the prosecution of Flynn and guiding the decision of the Justice Department (DOJ) on how to proceed in the case.”

    • OldTulsaDude says:

      As the FBI is under the AG in the DOJ organizational chart, I don’t think Wray had any choice if Barr told him to do it.

  6. Eureka says:

    ~Suddenly, Last Summer~

    Trump’s gripe of regret the whole Mueller era was that it held him up, he couldn’t get anything done. On the face of it, this made no sense: plenty of Presidenting could — and to our peril, did — get done. But he was restrained some in furthering out his ends of various bargains. One might infer that he was griping about lost gains to be ill-gotten through chaotic (as to long-standing US stances) “foreign policy decisions.”

    The Kurds, the Kurds. But one of the genocides.

    And who’da thunk a US president would suborn Soviet-era propaganda films of Russian forces rifling through US bases in Syria.

    Sure, so a lot of the specifics took place in the fall, but many moving parts kicked into high gear before then, some perhaps delayed (again) by the fallout from that perfect call (if only to be ultimately hastened by impending impeachment; as with some of Putin-Erdogan-Trump’s Syria policy babysteps after the Dems took the House, it appears that those who call in Trump’s markers truly weigh — or used to –the power of the Dems to neuter him).

    So many of the Powell (Barr) – era moves in the Flynn case (escalatingly) read like, “Mission complete; now we have to get our advance man out, retrieve him from behind enemy lines.”

  7. Eureka says:

    If you wonder what keeps Jefferson Beauregard Sessions up at night (besides missing his personal vampire); with ‘perspective sandwich’ by Volatile Mermaid:

    The Volatile Mermaid: “Jeff Sessions and Trump are like divorced parents with joint custody of racism.… ”

    “73 year old Jeff Sessions and 73 year old Donald Trump are having a public Twitter spat so I don’t ever want to hear anyone say “arguing like little girls” ever a-fucking-gain.”

    It is 10:59 PM EST when Sessions strikes back (someone needs to send them each a booklet of Ben Franklin aphorisms or something):

    Jeff Sessions: “[email protected] Look, I know your anger, but recusal was required by law. I did my duty & you’re damn fortunate I did. It protected the rule of law & resulted in your exoneration. Your personal feelings don’t dictate who Alabama picks as their senator, the people of Alabama do.”

    “Tuberville’s a coward who is rightly too afraid to debate me. He says you’re wrong on China & trade. He wants to bring in even more foreign workers to take American jobs. That’s not your agenda and it’s not mine or Alabama’s. I know Alabama. Tuberville doesn’t.”


    Donald J. Trump: “3 years ago, after Jeff Sessions recused himself, the Fraudulent Mueller Scam began. Alabama, do not trust Jeff Sessions. He let our Country down. That’s why I endorsed Coach Tommy Tuberville (@TTuberville), the true supporter of our #MAGA agenda!”

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