US President Donald Trump's transition team learned before the inauguration Michael Flynn might need to register with the government as a foreign agent before taking the role of national security adviser, White House officials acknowledged on Friday. However, they said Trump did not have prior knowledge.
The disclosure suggests that Trump transition lawyers did not view Flynn's lobbying work for a Turkish businessman as a liability for an official who serves as the president's closest adviser on security and international affairs. It also raises new questions about whether Trump's transition team, and later his White House lawyers, fully vetted Flynn who was fired for ties with Russia.
Flynn's registration this week with the Justice Department disclosed lobbying by him and his firm that may have benefited the government of Turkey.
Trump fired Flynn last month on grounds that he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his conversations with Russia's ambassador to the US.
Flynn's registration comes amid intense scrutiny over his and other Trump associates' potential contacts with Russia. The FBI is investigating, as are House and Senate intelligence committees.
Flynn registered with the Justice Department on Tuesday, citing $530,000 worth of lobbying. His work on behalf of a company owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin occurred at the same time he was advising Trump's presidential campaign.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump had not been aware Flynn might register as a foreign agent. He said Flynn's lawyer had raised the possible filing with the transition team, but Trump's attorneys responded that it was a personal matter and not something they would consult on.
"It's a business matter, it's not something that would be appropriate for a government entity to give someone guidance on when they should file as an individual," Spicer said. He dismissed questions about whether Flynn's work should have raised red flags for the new administration, saying the retired Army lieutenant general had "impeccable credentials."
Among those told of Flynn's lobbying work during the transition was Don McGahn, a campaign lawyer who has gone on to become White House counsel, according to a person with direct knowledge of the conversations between Flynn's representatives and the transition team.
A White House official said McGahn and others were not aware of the details of Flynn's work. It's not clear why the Trump advisers did not seek additional information once Flynn's lawyers raised the potential filing.
According to the person with knowledge of the discussions, Flynn's representatives had a second conversation with Trump lawyers after the inauguration and made clear the national security adviser would indeed be registering with the Justice Department.
The White House official said the counsel's office had no recollection of that second discussion.
Both the White House official and the person with knowledge of the discussions insisted on anonymity in order to disclose the private conversations.
According to Flynn's filings, his firm's work involved research, informational materials and a video on Fethullah Gulen. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, of orchestrating a botched coup last summer and of running a terror network. Erdogan has called for Gulen's extradition, a request the Obama administration rebuffed.