Part 3—Puts Flynn "on the Turkish payroll:" Just last evening, we were surprised by what we heard at the start of The Eleventh Hour.
Brian Williams, our dapper host, started his first panel discussion by throwing to Glenn Thrush of the New York Times. The fellows shared the type of towel-snapping banter which sends a warning to sensible people.
"Warning," such repartee says. "You may be getting played:"
WILLIAMS (5/24/17): Glenn, we'll start with you. Tell us about what your colleagues have written tonight on Russia, and why it's important, while I take a drink of water.Basically, that's how Brian's program began.
THRUSH: [Laughs] Well, I think the president needs to take a drink too, Brian.
Williams had had until 11 PM to think up an opening question. Despite the long preparation time, his opening "question" was simply an invitation to talk, accompanied by a wonderfully ironical bit of business.
Thrush chuckled at the star's witty ways, then directed some snark at Donald J. Trump. This is what our upper-end "journalism" starts to look like when a chase is on.
We were less than impressed by that Brianesque first exchange. The last time Brian went down this road, he ended up getting fired and "going away" for a couple of years.
That said, we were actively surprised by what Thrush said next. He spoke of his newspaper's "revelations," then seemed to dream one up:
THRUSH (continuing directly): Look, you know we have just, day after day, had these revelations. Today's revelation is that the Russians discovered the possibility of being able, as you said before, to influence Michael Flynn, who was then an adviser to the campaign, who was also at the same time on the payroll of Turkey and was being paid by RT, Russian television...Masterfully, Thrush continued from there. Already, though, we were puzzled.
Was Michael Flynn "on the payroll of Turkey" during the 2016 campaign? Also, had the New York Times ever made that assertion?
You're asking excellent questions! Regarding the work of the New York Times, let's take a look at the record. What has the newspaper said?
The New York Times hadn't done much reporting on this matter until this March. At that time, Flynn registered as a foreign agent under terms of the rarely-explained Foreign Agent Registration Act.
"Foreign agent!" It's a wonderfully scary term, though it's also perhaps a bit imprecise. But on the New York Times' front page, Baker and Rosenberg reported such facts as these:
BAKER AND ROSENBERG (3/11/17): Michael T. Flynn, who went from the campaign trail to the White House as President Trump's first national security adviser, filed papers this week acknowledging that he worked as a foreign agent last year representing the interests of the Turkish government in a dispute with the United States.In that report, Baker and Rosenberg did not assert that Flynn had been "on the payroll of Turkey." Indeed, they explicitly said that Flynn "did not work directly for the Turkish government."
Mr. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, registered as a lobbyist last year but did not file papers with the Justice Department registering as a foreign agent, providing a fuller understanding of his role, until Tuesday. While he did not work directly for the Turkish government, the firm that hired him, Inovo, is owned by a Turkish-American businessman with links to leaders in Ankara and asked him to work on an issue important to the government.
On behalf of his firm, the Flynn Intel Group, Mr. Flynn signed a contract on Aug. 9 with Inovo, a Dutch firm owned by Ekim Alptekin, the chairman of the Turkish-American Business Council. Mr. Flynn's firm was to receive $600,000 for 90 days of work.
You're right! The word "directly" is doing a lot of work in that sentence. (Baker and Rosenberg never quite explained what that somewhat slippery word meant.)
At any rate, Baker and Rosenberg didn't say that Flynn had been "on the payroll of Turkey." Without using the exact formulation, they said he'd been on the payroll of Inovo BV, a Dutch firm owned by a Turkish-American businessman who had "links to leaders in Ankara."
As far as we know, Ekim Alptekin, the owner of Inovo, isn't Turkish-American. As we noted yesterday, our biggest and laziest, most famous newspapers haven't quite puzzled that out.
But in this report, Flynn was "on the payroll" of a Dutch firm, not "on the payroll of Turkey." Flynn was said to have done lobbying work for that Dutch-based firm.
(That same day, the Washington Post reported that Flynn's firm had been "hired last year...by the Netherlands-based firm Inovo BV, which is owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin...Flynn's firm was paid more than $500,000 by Inovo for public relations and research work." The Post believed that Alptekin was Turkish, not Turkish-American. But they too said that Flynn had been on the payroll of a Dutch-based firm.)
At times like these, when a chase is on, such facts aren't likely to stand. At times like these, reporters for newspapers like the Times may start massaging and shaving such facts, producing the stories they like.
Case in point:
The Times returned to this matter on April 2, one day after April Fools. In these passages, Mark Rosenberg's formulations had perhaps begun to slip and slide:
ROSENBERG (4/2/17): Mr. Flynn has faced fierce criticism for the Moscow speech and for his lobbying efforts for Turkey. But the work paid well, and the disclosure forms showed income of nearly $1.5 million, a sizable amount for a man who left the military less than three years ago.In this report, the New York Times has headed down a slipshod slope.
The payments for lobbying work that Mr. Flynn did for the Turkish government—and did not disclose until March—were handled through the Flynn Intel Group, and are not listed separately on the disclosure forms. Mr. Flynn did not work directly for the Turkish government; the firm that hired him, Inovo, is owned by a Turkish-American businessman with links to leaders in Ankara and asked him to work on an issue important to the government.
Rosenberg was still willing to note the fact that "Flynn did not work directly for the Turkish government," whatever that was supposed to mean. But before he offered that disclaimer, he referred to Flynn's "lobbying efforts for Turkey," then to "the lobbying work that Mr. Flynn did for the Turkish government."
It had started to sound like Flynn had been "on the Turkish payroll!" Rosenberg hadn't said that in so many words. But he was humming the tune.
The New York Times returned to this topic last week. A prosecutor had issued subpoenas to Flynn, including a subpoena "for records about Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman who is close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and is chairman of the Turkish-American Business Council."
By now, the Times was saying that Alptekin is Turkish, not Turkish-American. Also, the basic facts had been massaged by the Times within an inch of their life.
Those basic facts had almost gone through a blender. By now, Rosenberg and Mazzetti were truly making it sound like a certain foreign agent had been on the Turkish payroll:
ROSENBERG AND MAZZETTI (5/18/17): Michael T. Flynn told President Trump's transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case.In these latest formulations, Flynn had been "secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign." He wasn't just a foreign agent. By now, he had become a secret agent too!
The investigation stems from the work Mr. Flynn did for Inovo BV, a Dutch company owned by Mr. Alptekin, the Turkish businessman. On Aug. 9, Mr. Flynn and the Flynn Intel Group signed a contract with Inovo for $600,000 over 90 days to run an influence campaign aimed at discrediting Fethullah Gulen, an reclusive cleric who lives in Pennsylvania and whom Mr. Erdogan has accused of orchestrating a failed coup in Turkey last summer.
When he was hired by Mr. Alptekin, Mr. Flynn did not register as a foreign agent, as required by law when an American represents the interests of a foreign government. Only in March did he file a retroactive registration with the Justice Department because his lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, said that ''the engagement could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.''
Inovo BV got mentioned again, but we were then told that Flynn had failed to "register as a foreign agent, as required by law when an American represents the interests of a foreign government." That's what Flynn had apparently done.
A few nights later, a wise-cracking journalist went on TV and made an inaccurate statement. In fairness, you almost can't blame Thrush for saying that Flynn had been "on the payroll of Turkey."
Who knows? Given the things his paper had published, Thrush may even have come to believe what he said!
In truth, nothing the New York Times has reported justifies the pleasing claim that Flynn was "on the payroll of Turkey." That isn't where his checks came from. His checks came from Inovo BV, a Dutch-based lobbying firm.
In truth, no one has ever shown that Flynn was "on the payroll of Turkey." But so what? At times like these, with a major chase on, such pleasing claims will emerge.
No, Petunia! As far as anyone has shown, Michael Flynn wasn't on the payroll of Turkey. He was on the payroll of a Dutch firm owned and operated by a man who is probably Turkish, though our big newspapers are too lazy and incompetent to find out.
Our mighty newspapers have never quite bothered to establish that basic fact. They've been too busy massaging and disappearing facts, the enterprises in which they tend to engage when a chase is on.
Was Flynn doing something "wrong" when he worked for Inovo? Not necessarily, no. He was advancing some unconventional views, but that is normally not a crime, and Flynn evinces many signs of being at least half-nuts.
The key to this conundrum may lie in the scary term, "foreign agent." The term is wonderfully scary, and that makes it potentially useful. It may seem to imply various things which it doesn't imply in the situation under review.
Tomorrow, we'll review the meaning of that term, which has of course gone unexplained by our most glorious newspapers. The reason for that lethargy is simple:
Michael Flynn had become so crazy a few years back that people began rolling their eyes about his unreliable claims. Those claims were referred to as "Flynn facts." There he goes again, his associates were wont to suggest.
We can't judge the various claims which got eye-rolled that way. But at times like this, when a chase is on, our upper-end press corps is strongly inclined to start inventing facts too.
They sand, massage, disappear and invent elementary facts. They fail to explore the most basic distinctions. They make no attempt to clarify even the most basic points.
In the process, they produce their pleasing group stories, the kinds of stories they very much like. They end up saying things like this:
Michael Flynn was on the Turkish payroll.
Pleasing though the claim may be, no one has ever shown that it's true. When you see performers like Thrush clowning with Brian, then going on to make such claims, you are seeing the same old turkeys inventing their own "Flynn facts!"
Your lizard brain will tell you it's great. As always, your lizard is wrong.
Tomorrow: What is a "foreign agent?"