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Michael Flynn, who resigned after less than a month as President Donald Trump's national security adviser, sidestepped federal disclosure rules and may have violated the law in accepting Russian money, revealed the two leaders of the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday.
Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said after a classified briefing with the Defense Intelligence Agency that Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general and former DIA director, likely accepted foreign payment that "needs to be recovered."
"As a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey or anybody else," Chaffetz said during a news conference. "It appears he did take that money. It was inappropriate, and there are repercussions for a violation of law."
Though the congressman declined to comment on the scope of the intelligence briefing, he said there was "no information or no data to support the notion that General Flynn complied with the law." Flynn, he added, failed to obtain permission from the Department of Defense before accepting the alleged funds and could be criminally prosecuted.
Flynn left his post in the Trump administration in February after it was disclosed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his discussions with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
This latest development in the congressional probe of connections between Trump officials and Russia comes a week after Chaffetz announced that he would not seek re-election for his seat in 2018 and said he may step down before his term ends.
Since January, constituents have doggedly demanded the congressman investigate the president. While Chaffetz has led the examination into Flynn's dealings, he has relegated other investigations to the House Intelligence Committee.
Hinckley Institute of Politics Director Jason Perry suggests that Flynn presents "a very safe way to look at some dealings with Russia." And Tuesday's announcement, he said, is the first measure where Chaffetz appears to toughen down on the administration.
"Investigating Michael Flynn is about the safest thing that you can do," Perry added. "[It's] the first effort by Congressman Chaffetz to start pulling on the string to see what it's connected to."
Though Perry said "one could certainly speculate about the timing of it," Chaffetz has denied any "ulterior motives" connected to his departure. It's unclear how much of his remaining term the congressman will complete (and he left open a potential bid for governor in 2020).
Chaffetz was accompanied Tuesday by Maryland Democrat and ranking Oversight member Elijah Cummings, who said the committee "should be holding a hearing with General Flynn."
"We need to have the opportunity to ask him directly why he concealed these foreign payments from the Department of Defense," Cummings said, though he respects the decision to have the Intelligence Committee take the lead in the investigation.
Flynn's attorney, Robert Kelner, maintained that Flynn "answered any questions that were posed by DIA concerning the trip" during his briefing, according to a statement to The Associated Press.
The senior leaders and other lawmakers on the oversight panel reviewed classified documents related to Flynn, including a security clearance form, called a SF-86, from January 2016. Flynn filed the paperwork about a month after traveling to Moscow and did not disclose any payments, Cummings said.
According to reports released in March, Flynn had received about $65,000 in 2015 from companies with ties to Russia; $45,000 of that came from RT, the Russian television station owned by the government and often connected to propaganda campaigns, for a speech Flynn gave.
The Oversight Committee asked on March 22 that the White House release, among others, documents related to the RT payment to Flynn. That request was denied on April 19, with a decision that said the forms "predate Lt. Gen. Flynn's service at the White House."
"The White House has refused to provide this committee with a single piece of paper in response to our bipartisan request and that is simply unacceptable," Cummings said.
During a briefing Tuesday, press secretary Sean Spicer defended the White House's response to the committee's request, saying the documents the group asked for and the actions Flynn took "all of that occurred prior to his service" with the Trump administration.
Spicer also deferred questions on whether Flynn broke the law in leaving information off his SF-86 form and said Trump "stands by his decision" to "let him go."
Chaffetz said the White House has been compliant with requests in the past and a subpoena for documents now would not be necessary. He channeled his concerns to "how widespread" situations like Flynn's are: "My guess is this is probably not the first time this has happened and that does concern me."