Former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn probably broke the law by failing to get permission to be paid for a trip to Russia in 2015, the leaders of a U.S. House of Representatives committee have said.
Flynn, a retired army lieutenant general who was a top adviser to Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election campaign, sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at dinner and spoke on a panel at a gala event sponsored by Russia's state-backed RT television, which paid Flynn at least $33,000 for the Moscow trip.
"That money needs to be recovered," Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters in Washington.
"As a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey, or anybody else. And it appears as if he did take that money. It was inappropriate and there are repercussions for the violation of law," he said.
Moreover, "General Flynn had a duty and an obligation to seek and obtain permission to receive money from foreign governments," Chaffetz said. "It does not appear to us that that was ever sought, nor did he ever get that permission."
Flynn became Trump's first national security adviser in January. But he was forced out on February 13 after failing to disclose he had conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States about U.S. sanctions on Moscow weeks before Trump took office, and later misled Vice President Mike Pence about those conversations.
Flynn is a subject of investigations by intelligence committees in the House and Senate, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, all of which are probing broader allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election. Russia has denied the allegations.
Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House oversight panel, said it appeared Flynn also did not fully disclose the payments from Russia on his security-clearance application, as required. He said a failure to do so would be a felony.
Flynn's attorney said the retired general had briefed the spy agency he led until 2014, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), before and after the Russia trip.
"He answered any questions that were posed by DIA concerning the trip during those briefings," Robert Kelner said.
The congressmen said they raised questions about Flynn's Russia trip after being briefed by officials of the DIA and reviewing classified documents the agency provided..
Chaffetz and Cummings said they planned to write to the comptroller of the U.S. Army and the Defense Department's inspector-general for a final determination as to whether Flynn broke the law and whether the government needs to pursue criminal charges and seek to recover the payments Flynn received.
Asked about the assertions that Flynn appeared to have violated the law, White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters, "That would be a question for him and law enforcement agencies."
Cummings also criticized the White House for refusing to turn over documents the committee requested about Flynn's foreign contacts during his three-week stint as national security adviser.
In response to a letter to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, an administration official told the committee that documents relating to those contacts likely contained classified and other sensitive information and could not be turned over.
"That is simply unacceptable," Cummings said.
Spicer said the White House officials viewed the request for Flynn's contacts with foreign officials as "outlandish."
With reporting by AP and Reuters