Donald Trump was unaware his former national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, who resigned last month, was acting as a “foreign agent” for another foreign country, the US President's spokesman has said.
Mr Flynn, a retired army general, told the US Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Unit he received $530,000 to lobby on behalf of a Turkish company – just weeks before he was appointed as Mr Trump’s most senior national security aide.
The US President’s spokesman insisted the Mr Trump was unaware that his close adviser was a “foreign agent”.
The paperwork, filed voluntarily by Mr Flynn’s lawyer, said the retired general had carried out work between August and November 2016 that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey”.
US law states any citizen working on behalf of a foreign government or political entity must register with the Justice Department, and failure to do so is a criminal offence.
Mr Flynn worked on behalf of a Turkish company rather than the government, but the nature of the work was deemed to be potentially beneficial to the state.
Ekim Alptekin, the businessman who employed Flynn Intel Group Ltd., told the Associated Press the documents were a response to "political pressure" and he did not agree with Mr Flynn's decision to register with the Justice Department.
"I disagree with the filing," he said. "It would be different if I was working for the government, but I am not taking directions from anyone in the government."
Mr Alptekin added that he had asked for some of the $530,000 in payments to the Flynn Intel Group to be returned to him because he was unhappy with the company's performance.
Asked at the White House daily briefing on Thursday whether Mr Trump had known about his adviser’s other role, the President’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, said: “I don’t believe that was known.”
Mr Flynn was forced to resign last month after it was revealed he had lied about the nature of his contacts with Russian officials. The former general had insisted he had not discussed the issue of US sanctions against Russia with Sergey Kislyak, Moscow’s ambassador to the US, in the weeks before formally taking office. However, leaked intelligence intercepts showed this was untrue.
The newly-filed documents show Mr Flynn met with at least two Turkish government ministers in September, at a time when he was also working as an adviser to Mr Trump.
The work he carried out involved collecting information on Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who Turkey accuses of being behind a failed coup in July 2016, and lobbying American officials to take action against him.
At the time he was being paid by Mr Alptekin, Mr Flynn also wrote an opinion article for The Hill, the US online political newspaper, praising Turkey and urging closer co-operation with the country.
“We need to adjust our foreign policy to recognise Turkey as a priority, he wrote. “We need to see the world from Turkey’s perspective.
“The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gülen, who is running a scam. We should not provide him safe haven. In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.”