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Sanctions' end said Flynn vow; whistleblower account keys on business link with Russia

By Compiled by Democrat-Gazette staff from wire reports

This article was published December 7, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

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Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn arrives at federal court in Washington, Friday, Dec. 1, 2017.

WASHINGTON -- Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, told a former business associate that economic sanctions against Russia would be "ripped up" as one of the Trump administration's first acts, according to an account by a whistleblower made public Wednesday.

Flynn believed that ending the sanctions could allow a business project he had once participated in to move forward, according to the whistleblower.

The account, detailed in a letter written by Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, is the strongest evidence to date that the Trump administration wanted to end the sanctions immediately and suggests that Flynn may have had an economic incentive for the United States to forge a closer relationship with Russia.

Flynn had worked on a business venture to partner with Russia to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East until June 2016 but remained close with the people involved afterward. On Inauguration Day, according to the whistleblower, Flynn texted the former business associate to say that the project was "good to go."

[DOCUMENT: Read Flynn’s plea deal, indictment]

Cummings said in his letter that the whistleblower contacted his office in June and has authorized him to go public with the details. He did not name the whistleblower.

"These grave allegations compel a full, credible and bipartisan congressional investigation," Cummings wrote.

Flynn has been under investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia's attempts to disrupt last year's election, for calls he made last December to Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time. Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about the nature of his calls, during which the men discussed the sanctions that former President Barack Obama's administration had just imposed on Russia.

In his letter, Cummings also said his staff had been in consultations with Mueller's team, which lodged the criminal charge against Flynn. Staff members for the special counsel asked Cummings not to make the whistleblower's account public until "they completed certain investigative steps," he wrote.

[RUSSIA REPORT: Documents on Russian interference in election ]

According to the account detailed in the letter, the whistleblower had a conversation on Inauguration Day with Alex Copson of ACU Strategic Partners, a company that hired Flynn in 2015 as an adviser to develop a plan to work with Russia to build nuclear power plants throughout the Middle East. Flynn served as an adviser until June 2016.

During the conversation, Copson told the whistleblower that "this is the best day of my life" because it was "the start of something I've been working on for years, and we are good to go." Copson told the whistleblower that Flynn had sent him a text message during Trump's inaugural address, directing him to tell others involved in the nuclear project to continue developing their plans.

"This is going to make a lot of very wealthy people," Copson said.

Attempts to reach Copson on Wednesday were unsuccessful. A lawyer for Flynn declined to comment.

The letter went on to say that "Mr. Copson explained that Gen. Flynn was making sure that sanctions would be 'ripped up' as one of his first orders of business and that this would allow money to start flowing into the project."

Obama first imposed economic sanctions on Russia in 2014, after Russia's military incursions in Crimea and Ukraine, and again last December to punish Russia for its attempts to disrupt the U.S. presidential election.

Earlier this year, various plans to lift the Russia sanctions circulated through the Trump administration, but Trump ultimately decided not to repeal the measures. Flynn was national security adviser for 24 days before he was forced out over questions about whether he lied to administration officials about the nature of his phone calls with Kislyak.

Cummings sent the letter to the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and asked him to investigate the whistleblower's claims. The whistleblower, Cummings said, is willing to meet with Gowdy if he agrees to protect the person's identity.

Cummings explained that "the exceptionally troubling allegations in this case -- combined with ongoing obstruction from the White House and others -- have made this step necessary."

Cummings said Gowdy should subpoena the White House and the Flynn Intelligence Group, Flynn's former company, for documents that the House committee had requested in March but had not yet been provided. The subpoena to the White House should be for "all documents -- including emails and text messages sent on personal devices" about Flynn's foreign contacts, payments and efforts to promote the proposal. Cummings said Gowdy also should subpoena Flynn, Copson and four others to testify before the panel.

TRUMP JR. INTERVIEW

Also Wednesday, Donald Trump Jr. was being interviewed in private as part of the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump Jr. refused to tell lawmakers about conversations he had with his father regarding a 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer after emails detailing the meeting had become public, according to Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the intelligence panel.

Trump Jr. said he didn't tell the president about the meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians when it happened and declined to elaborate on what he ultimately told him after the meeting became public, Schiff said.

Schiff said that Trump Jr. said he couldn't speak about the conversations with his father this summer because of attorney-client privilege, telling the committee that a lawyer was present when he spoke to his father about the June 2016 meeting and the emails that led up to it.

Schiff said that wasn't a valid excuse not to talk, saying "the presence of counsel does not mean communications between father and son are privileged."

Both the House and Senate intelligence panels are investigating the Trump Tower meeting.

The panels are also interested in messages Trump Jr. exchanged with WikiLeaks, the website that leaked emails from top Democratic officials during the campaign.

The Senate Intelligence Committee also hopes to interview Trump Jr. before the end of the year. He has already spoken to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is also investigating the meddling.

In emails ahead of the Trump Tower meeting, Trump Jr. enthusiastically agreed to the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others after he was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, his father's Democratic rival.

Trump Jr. has since denied such material ever materialized. In the private interview with Judiciary Committee staff members in September, Trump Jr. cast the meeting as simply an opportunity to learn about Clinton's "fitness, character or qualifications," insisting to investigators that he did not collude with Russia to hurt Clinton's campaign against his father.

People who attended the 2016 Trump Tower meeting have made several appearances before congressional committees investigating the Russian interference.

The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, is drafting a contempt resolution against top FBI and Justice Department officials that he plans to file "as quickly as possible," accusing federal law enforcement officials of failing to sufficiently produce documents he has been demanding since the summer.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is expected to direct a contempt resolution against FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein over "outstanding documents" related to an August subpoena demanding information pertaining to a dossier of unsubstantiated allegations surrounding Donald Trump's 2013 trip to Moscow. Nunes filed additional subpoenas at the time demanding interviews with Wray and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and requested an audience with other witnesses as well.

Information for this article was contributed by Mark Mazzetti and Michael S. Schmidt of The New York Times; by Karoun Demirjian of The Washington Post; and by Mary Clare Jalonick of The Associated Press.

A Section on 12/07/2017

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