For the residents of Middletown, Rhode Island, General Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor is still their hometown hero, politics aside. USA TODAY
Michael Flynn, then National Security Adviser to President Trump, attends a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the East Room of the White House on Feb 10, 2017.(Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo, European Pressphoto Agency)
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. — They show up unannounced, with cash and checks to drop off at William Flynn’s accounting firm on busy Aquidneck Avenue. “I was shocked and a little embarrassed,” he said. “Some don’t even know my brother, but they…wanted to do something for the family.”
And at a local wedding celebration earlier this month, a guest sought out Jack Flynn for a private moment. “I don’t have a lot of money,” the wedding guest told him. “But I want you to know that I wrote a check for $100 to help your brother.”
Michael Flynn is one of the most vulnerable figures in special counsel Robert Mueller’s widening inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. That investigation took a dramatic step forward this week, when former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and aide Rick Gates were charged with money laundering and conspiracy for activities that took place before they joined the campaign.
Another Trump campaign aide, George Papadopolous, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts – Mueller’s first public allegation that an aide to President Trump’s campaign sought to work with Russian officials to gather “dirt” on the Democratic nominee.
Unlike Manafort – whom prosecutors allege spent more than $1 million from offshore accounts on clothes alone – and many other Trump associates caught in the investigation’s grip, Flynn and his family are not wealthy. As he struggles with legal costs verging on seven figures, residents of the small community Flynn calls home are rallying to his side, even though this New England town hardly qualifies as Trump Country – it’s a deep blue stronghold where even some of his own family have long identified as Democrats.
Mike Flynn’s childhood home in Middletown, RI. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)
The Flynns never occupied any of the ostentatious Newport mansions that overlook the most privileged coastline in Rhode Island. But the sprawling family, which has produced two Army generals, is akin to royalty in nearby Middletown – a working class beach town where by now, most everybody knows the daunting legal peril facing its most decorated son.
After all, they watched Mike Flynn, the sixth of nine children, rise from high school football champion to venerated military officer and Trump’s national security adviser.
They also watched his highly public and dramatic fall. Since he resigned in February for misleading Vice President Pence about his contacts with Russian officials after the election, two federal grand juries are still examining Flynn’s activities – both as Trump’s national security adviser and in a brief lobbying career before that. Flynn has made no secret of his desire for a deal to testify in exchange for immunity from possible prosecution. And earlier this year he asserted his Fifth Amendment protectionagainst self-incrimination when he refused to turn over documents sought by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Seven months after his unceremonious departure from the White House, trouble seemingly shadows virtually every corner of Flynn’s life – except here. At the urging of his family and oldest friends, the former national security adviser and his family have sought extended refuge in what feels like a galaxy away from Washington – where Flynn’s head-long descent into the political and legal unknown prompts flashes of anger, even contempt.
Jack Flynn, the fifth child in the family, described his brother’s ordeal as “a political assassination — a bunch of bulls—t.”
“I think that everybody is worried about what’s happening in Washington, D.C., but this is home,” added William Flynn, the eldest brother. “We grew up here, we know a lot of people and they know the family– like any other family– has problems. Most of them just happen to feel that Michael is a solid citizen.” In the 16,000-person community that lies between iconic Newport and Portsmouth, the former head of military intelligence who earned four Bronze Stars and was twice recognized with the Legion of Merit remains remarkably unsullied.
It is not surprising that family and friends have rallied to the general’s side. What is most striking is how the support here, a longtime Democratic stronghold where a Kennedy represented part of the state in Congress for 16 years, has transcended the nation’s deep political divide. Flynn’s own mother, Helen, was a well-known state Democratic activist.
“It’s not about being a Democrat, Republican or Independent,” said Middletown Council President Robert Sylvia, also a Democrat. “It’s about Michael Flynn.”
‘Out of the spotlight’
In this August 1972 photo provided by the Newport Daily News, Michael Flynn, 13, of Middletown, R.I., right, shakes hands with Middletown Councilman Francis LaPointe, left, as he is presented with a commendation and town title, in Middletown. Flynn was honored for pulling one small girl from the path of rolling car, and directing a friend to save another girl. (Photo: The Newport Daily News, AP)
As soon as he learned of Flynn’s firing, Tom Heaney dashed off a letter to his old friend that contained a simple message: “Come on home.”
Heaney’s friendship with Flynn goes back nearly 50 years, when both were Middletown Little Leaguers and later, high school football teammates who captured the 1976 Rhode Island state championship.
“I thought it would be a good idea to spend time together, prop them up and let them know we are here for them,” said Heaney, a retired Army colonel. “There is a pretty strong nucleus of friends who go back years. And a lot of us are still here. We’re trying the best we can to keep Mike and Lori out of the spotlight.” (Lori Andrade Flynn, the daughter of a large local Portuguese family, met Flynn in high school and her ties to the community run just as deep as her husband’s.)
As the investigation crests in Washington, the criticism offered by cable television analysts or lobbed anonymously over the Internet is biting. “To hear people suggest that he is a traitor or should be shot, and to think that’s not stressful—you’re talking about somebody with more than 30 years of military service,” Jack Flynn said. “That means something.”
At home, Michael Flynn can lean on his support network. His parents, since taking up residence in the low-slung cottage on Tuckerman Avenue more than a half-century ago, have been a mainstay of the town. Helen and Charlie Flynn, a retired Army master sergeant, squeezed their nine children into the three-bedroom, one-bath home just steps from the surf.
There was so little room in the house, Jack Flynn said the kids spent most of the time outdoors. The family’s close proximity to the ocean turned 57 Tuckerman into a kind of community clubhouse, where friends stacked surfboards outside and wet-suits were slung on the fence-line to dry in the ocean breeze.
In recent months, Michael and Lori Flynn have returned to their local haunts. You can find them with Flynn’s brothers and their friends playing rounds of golf at nearby Montaup Country Club or taking in an occasional dinner at 22 Bowen’s, a steakhouse on the wharf in Newport.
‘It’s a black hole right now’
Tom Heaney, left, and Robert ‘Rocky’ Kempenaar, two of Mik Flynn’s friends in Rhode Island, have two major worries — that the entire clan will go broke paying the former National Security advisor’s legal bills and that the Russia scandal will overshadow his storied military career. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)
But it’s not exactly a vacation.
Heaney and Robert “Rocky” Kempenaar, a local real estate executive who played football with Flynn say the weight of the investigations has exacted an enormous toll on their friend.
Flynn’s prior consulting work, which also is being examined by investigators, has been virtually shuttered.With multiple investigations shadowing him, there is little demand for him on the speakers’ circuit where in 2015 he earned $33,000 for a now-controversial speech in Moscow. About a year after leaving the military, the retired general spoke to the Kremlin-backed television network Russia Today – and a photo of him at a related formal dinner seated next to Russian President Vladimir Putin sparked tremendous controversy as the probe into possible collusion between Trump associates and Russia intensifies.
Now, with his legal fees mounting, Flynn has hired a team of attorneys led by Robert Kelner, a partner at the prominent firm of Covington & Burling, to respond to a flurry of requests for documents and other materials from investigators. Every inquiry, including from the media, pushes the costs ever higher.
Flynn’s family, acknowledging the “tremendous financial burden,” last month set up a legal defense fund to alleviate the costs. “The enormous expense of attorneys’ fees and other related expenses far exceed their ability to pay,” brother, Joe Flynn, and sister, Barbara Redgate, said in a statement creating the fund.
Although the solicitation asked for contributions from “supporters, veterans and all people of goodwill,” the fund says it is not accepting donations from foreign nationals, the Trump Campaign or the president’s family business, the Trump Organization.
Flynn’s financial resources pale in comparison to other subjects of the investigation, including Trump himself. Trump has been tapping his campaign fund and the Republican National Committee to pay for his growing legal obligations. Earlier this month, the campaign reported that it spent more than $1 million on Trump and his son’s legal fees during the previous three months. (Nearly $238,000 went to the firm defending Donald Trump Jr.)
More: Trump campaign spends more than $1 million on legal fees in last quarter
For a family that prizes independence and self-sufficiency, the decision to seek the help of others was “huge,” William Flynn said.
Michael Flynn has a military pension, which pays about $160,000 per year. But the family maintains that the legal costs are increasingly stripping away the family’s resources.
“You got all of these things going against you,” William Flynn said. “And the government has unlimited resources. You’ve got a special prosecutor (Mueller), the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Justice Department, the FBI.
“It’s a black hole right now,” he said. “My biggest concern is that this never ends.”
Meanwhile, in Washington
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn speaks about American exceptionalism during the 2016 Republican National Convention. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY)
Some 400 miles away, the retired general features prominently in some of the most troubling revelations so far involving the Trump administration and Russia.
Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates has recounted in extraordinary detail how she rushed to the White House in January to alert officials that Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians – and even face possible criminal charges – after misleading Pence about his contacts with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador.
Pence publicly announced that Flynn assured him the subject of sanctions the Obama administration imposed on Russia were not raised in his conversations with Kislyak after the election. But those conversations had been secretly monitored by federal authorities – as are most communications involving foreign diplomats. Authorities knew that was not the case. “Compromise was the No. 1 concern,” Yates told a Senate panel in May. Russian officials, aware that Flynn had misled the White House, could have threatened to expose the nature of the communications.
More: Sally Yates warned White House that Michael Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail
More: Pentagon opens probe of Michael Flynn, fired national security adviser
More: James Comey testimony: Trump pressed me to shut down Michael Flynn investigation
What’s more, authorities viewed Flynn’s contacts with Russian diplomats as improper while the Obama administration was still in office – and a possible sign the Trump administration may have been trying to roll back sanctions imposed for Russia’s campaign of cyberattacks and fake news to influence the election.
The day after his Feb. 13 resignation, Flynn emerged as a central figure in yet another episode in the White House-Russia scandal. Former FBI Director James Comey has testified that Trump urged him at a private dinner to drop the investigation into Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak. Trump has denied making such a request.
In this Jan. 28, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump accompanied by, from second from left, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, White House press secretary Sean Spicer and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn speaks on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington. Flynn resigned as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. (Photo: Andrew Harnik, AP)
Flynn’s private business dealings also have drawn investigators’ interest, including $530,000 in earnings from a Dutch firm with ties to the Turkish government, and payment for his 2015 Moscow speech.
Flynn had not registered as a foreign agent – a legal requirement – when he accepted money from the Dutch company and only disclosed the payments after registering retroactively amid news reports of the failing. Flynn’s attorney, has maintained that his client had “fully” informed the Defense Department of his trip to Russia. He registered with the Justice Department after he was ousted from the Trump administration.
Flynn, through his attorney, declined to comment for this article.
Even the activities of Flynn’s son, Michael Flynn Jr., who served as an aide to his father in the family’s consulting business have raised questions. Last year, he was dismissed from President Trump’s transition team for his promotion of a baseless conspiracy theory that a popular Washington, D.C., pizza parlor had become a front for a sex trafficking ring linked to the Clintons.
Yet Flynn’s brothers quickly dismiss the idea that Flynn had thrown his allegiance to an adversary or sought to shield business dealings with foreign governments. “The idea that he would do something underhanded drives me crazy,” William Flynn said. The scope of his brother’s business dealings, Jack Flynn says, represented “measly chump change” and could not have benefited an adversary like Russia.
At the same time, they are clear-eyed about their brother’s predicament. “The best case: this all goes away and Michael comes out unscathed,” William Flynn said. “The worst case: he gets convicted of something like perjury.” While the eldest Flynn is careful to say that he is not aware of anything that would warrant such a charge, he notes that bad recall of dates and times can turn into something much worse. “Sometimes, we’re just sloppy,” he said.
‘An island mentality’
In this photo, date unknown, provided by Joe Flynn, Michael Flynn, left, sits with his mother Helen Flynn, right, near a football field, in Middletown, R.I. (Photo: Charlie Flynn, AP)
Kempenaar, Flynn’s old friend, is not a Trump supporter. In fact, he said, Flynn’s support for then-candidate Trump took some locals by surprise. Flynn was a fiery surrogate for Trump on the campaign trail, famously encouraging the audience at the Republican National Convention to chant “Lock her up!” – referencing Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.
Yet none of this appeared to phase his friends back home. “I’ll put it this way,” Kempenaar said, “I could sleep at night knowing that Mike was there (at the White House). “I knew Mike had our best interests at heart.”
Jon Zins, managing editor of the Newport Daily News which has chronicled the family’s adventures over the years, believes that Flynn’s generational roots have “superseded” any real political backlash in Democratic area. “There is an island mentality to it, too,” Zins said. “There is a real sense of pride in being from here.”
But that pride is not blind, even here. Those closest to Flynn are concerned about how all of this ends. “I don’t think Mike has to come out squeaky clean,” William Flynn said. “I just want him to come out of it okay.”
Mueller leaves after briefing members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election on Capitol Hill on June 21, 2017. Michael Reynolds, European Pressphoto Agency
Mueller departs after a closed-door meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 21, 2017. J. Scott Applewhite, AP
Mueller arrives for a court hearing at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco on April 21, 2016. He had been overseeing settlement talks with Volkswagen, the U.S. government and private lawyers for the automaker to buy back some of the nearly 600,000 diesel cars that cheat on emissions tests. Jeff Chiu, AP
James Comey talks with Mueller before he was officially sworn in as FBI director on Sept. 4, 2013. Susan Walsh, AP
Mueller jokes with CIA Director John Brennan during his farewell ceremony at the Department of Justice on Aug. 1, 2013, in Washington. Evan Vucci, AP
President Barack Obama, followed by Mueller, right, and his choice for Mueller’s successor, Comey, left, walks toward the podium in the Rose Garden on June 21, 2013. Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP
Mueller testifies during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 19, 2013, where he confirmed that the FBI uses drones for domestic surveillance. Alex Wong, Getty Images
Mueller is sworn in on Capitol Hill on June 13, 2013, prior to testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. J. Scott Applewhite, AP
Mueller and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper listen to statements at a Senate Intelligence Committee open hearing on worldwide threats on Jan. 31, 2012. H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Mueller and National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen testify on Capitol Hill on Sept. 13, 2011, before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on the terror threat to the U.S. Evan Vucci, AP
Clapper speaks with Mueller during the launch of the strategy to combat transnational organized crime at the White House on July 25, 2011. Nicholas Kamm, AFP/Getty Images
Mueller speaks at a conference on domestic terrorism on Oct. 6, 2010. Jacquelyn Martin, AP
Obama speaks with Mueller during a meeting at FBI headquarters in Washington on April 28, 2009. Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images
Mueller is welcomed on Capitol Hill on March 25, 2009, by Sen. Arlen Specter, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, prior to testifying before the committee’s oversight hearing regarding the FBI. J. Scott Applewhite, AP
Mueller and Sen. Patrick Leahy chat ahead of Mueller’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 17, 2008, on Capitol Hill. Mandel Ngan, AFP/Getty Images
Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill on Feb. 5, 2008, before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on world threats. Kevin Wolf, AP
Mueller prepares to testify on Capitol Hill on March 27, 2007, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the FBI. Susan Walsh, AP
Mueller answers questions from the media in Charlotte, N.C., on April 24, 2006. Chuck Burton, AP
CIA Director Porter Goss, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Mueller testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on April 27, 2005. Tim Dillon, USA TODAY
Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft exit a press briefing at the Department of Justice on Oct. 29, 2001. Stephen Jaffe, AFP
Mueller is sworn in at the start of his testimony during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on July 30, 2001. Dennis Cook, AP
President George W. Bush names Mueller the new director of the FBI at a Rose Garden ceremony on July 5, 2001. Mike Theiler, AFP
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