Did House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes meet with Michael Flynn and the Turkish foreign minister?
On 25 March 2017, liberal blogs (including the Palmer Report) posted reports that Rep. Devin Nunes, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, had previously met with the Turkish foreign minister and soon-to-be (now former) National Security Advisor Michael Flynn:
It’s not publicly known what was discussed during the Flynn-Nunes-Turkey meeting on January 18th. But confirmation of the meeting has been hiding in plain sight all along. Earlier today respected political pundit T. R. Ramachandran posted a lengthy tweet storm (link) which included a reference to a previously overlooked article from Turkish news publication Daily Sabah (link). The article reports that “[Turkish] Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met with designated U.S. National Security adviser Rt. Gen. Mike Flynn on Wednesday at Trump Hotel in Washington” and goes on to add that “House Intelligence Committee Congressman Devin Nunes, a Republican heavyweight, also attended the breakfast.”
Nunes and Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu both attended a “working breakfast” on 18 January 2017 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. but we found no evidence the two held a private meeting that included Michael Flynn (who served as the first National Security Advisor for the incoming Trump administration but resigned less than a month later after information surfaced indicating he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature and content of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.).
Nunes’ spokesman Jack Langer told us in an e-mail that Nunes was one of dozens of guests at a large event, not a part of a small and private meeting:
Chairman Nunes was a speaker at that event, but it was a large breakfast event, not a small, private meeting as described in that article. Mr. Cavusoglu was one of about 40 attendees at the event, which included 20-30 ambassadors to the U.S. and about 10 other foreign dignitaries and officials. The attendees heard some remarks from Flynn, Chairman Nunes, and other representatives on national security issues — the discussion topic was not Turkey or any other single country … if [Nunes did speak to Cavusoglu], it would’ve been among all the other ambassadors and officials at the event. There was no separate, private meeting.
The information that Nunes was at the event also attended by Cavusoglu seems to have initially been reported by the Daily Sabah, a Turkish publication which offers content in several languages (including English). Their article likewise said that Nunes attended the breakfast but didn’t mention anything about his having met with Cavusoglu:
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met with designated U.S. National Security adviser Rt. Gen. Mike Flynn at Trump Hotel in Washington.
“Met with General Flynn, who will assume the position of National Security Advisor, and other officials at a working breakfast in Washington D.C.,” Çavuşoğlu tweeted.
The meeting marks a first direct reachout between the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan administration and the incoming Donald Trump administration, other than a phone call between two leaders last November.
House Intelligence Committee Congressman Devin Nunes, a Republican heavyweight, also attended the breakfast.
The Daily Sabah seemingly contradicted Langer by reporting that Cavusoglu “was the only foreign leader at the breakfast and the topics on the U.S.-Turkish agenda were discussed by the attendees,” but the newspaper is often described as publishing “pro-government” content and propaganda.
The notion that Nunes “met” with the Turkish foreign minister could be controversial if true, because Flynn was forced to register with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent following revelations that his firm, Flynn Intel Group, was paid $530,000 for lobbying work that may have aided the Turkish government.
Former CIA chief James Woolsey told the Wall Street Journal that at a separate meeting he attended in the summer of 2016 between Flynn and Cavusoglu, the topic of discussion was a potentially illegal act: abducting Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen and delivering him to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan suspects Gulen of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016 and wants the U.S. government to extradite him to Turkey, as Gulen is a green card holder who lives in Pennsylvania. Woolsey told the Journal that the request to abduct Gulen “seemed to be naive,” adding: “I didn’t put a lot of credibility in it. This is a country of legal process and a Constitution, and you don’t send out folks to haul somebody overseas.”
During the week of President Trump’s 20 January 2017 inauguration, Cavusoglu posted several tweets with pictures of him meeting and greeting various American public officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker:
Met w/Speaker of the House of Representatives Ryan, the new Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin in Washington D.C. pic.twitter.com/QZNWZOJhVA
— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) January 20, 2017
Müstakbel Ulusal Güvenlik Danışmanı General Flynn ve Winsconsin Valisi Scott Walker’la. pic.twitter.com/5QUoJDzCtF
— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) January 19, 2017
The meetings between Flynn and Turkish government officials have no doubt been tainted by Flynn’s lobbying activity and an ongoing investigation into his alleged activities on behalf of foreign governments (vis-a-vis his short-lived role as a high-ranking intelligence official with the Trump administration). But we found no evidence supporting the claim that Nunes went alongside Flynn for a discussion on the specific topic of Turkish-U.S. relations with Cavusoglu. The Turkish foreign minister attended an event that Nunes also attended, and the two may have had informal exchanges, but substantive proof that Nunes took part in a secret and private meeting with him is so far lacking.