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House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking member Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) speaks about former national security adviser Michael Flynn during a news conference on President Trump's first 100 days on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas(reuters_tickers)
By Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon inspector general has launched an investigation into whether Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, accepted money from foreign entities without the required approval, according to a letter released by House Democrats on Thursday.
The new probe compounds the legal problems Flynn faces for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state-run Russia Today (RT) television network and a firm owned by a Turkish businessman after the former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) director retired as an Army lieutenant general in 2014.
Senior lawmakers said this week that Flynn likely broke the law by failing to request and receive permission to accept $45,000 to speak at a 2015 RT gala dinner at which he sat with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Flynn also figures in congressional probes into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election that U.S. intelligence agencies say was aimed at swaying the vote in favour of Trump, the Republican candidate, over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Russia denies the allegation.
The Defense Department inspector general is investigating whether Flynn "failed to obtain required approval prior to receiving any emolument from a foreign government," according to an April 11 letter released by Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
If substantiated, such a failure would violate military regulations that apply a constitutional prohibition to current and retired officers against accepting "emoluments" from foreign powers, the letter said.
An attorney for Flynn, who has offered to testify before Congress in return for a grant of immunity from prosecution, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement on Tuesday, Flynn's lawyer, Robert Kelner, said Flynn briefed DIA "extensively" before and after his RT appearance.
Representative Elijah Cummings, the panel's top Democrat, released other Defense Department documents on Thursday showing that DIA found no evidence that Flynn sought permission to accept foreign funds despite a 2014 warning against taking such payments.
One document, a redacted version of a letter that DIA sent to the committee on April 7, said the agency had not found "any records referring or relating to LTG (Lieutenant General) Flynn’s receipt of money from a foreign source."
"DIA did not locate any records of LTG Flynn seeking permission or approval for the receipt of money from a foreign source,” the letter continued.
Cummings also released an October 2014 letter from DIA to Flynn outlining ethics restrictions that applied to him on retirement from the U.S. Army, including a prohibition on accepting payments from foreign sources without permission.
"We have no evidence, not a shred, that he (Flynn) disclosed his payments ... from RT, the Kremlin-backed propaganda outlet, and we have no evidence, zilch, that he obtained permission from the secretary of the Army and the secretary of state to accept any foreign government payments as required by law," Cummings told reporters.
Separately, the committee's Republican chairman, Representative Jason Chaffetz, asked the acting Army secretary for a "final determination" as to whether Flynn violated the law by accepting foreign payments, according to a letter released by his office on Thursday.
In addition to looking into the Russia Today funds, the House committee is scrutinizing Flynn's work last year as a foreign agent hired to promote Turkish government views by a Netherlands-based company owned by a Turkish businessman.
The company paid Flynn's now-defunct firm, the Flynn Intel Group, a total of $530,000 beginning in August, when he was the Trump campaign's top foreign policy adviser.
Flynn only registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department in March, weeks after he resigned as Trump's national security adviser following his failure to disclose contacts with Sergei Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States, before Trump took office.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Alexander; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and James Dalgleish)