WASHINGTON, D.C. - The 1976 film All the President's Men, tells the story of the Washington Post reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal that forced President Richard Nixon to resign. One of the most lasting elements of the iconic film is a simple, three-word phrase that guided the reporters where they needed to go to sniff out political corruption. Nowadays, whenever there's the possibility of a scandal in Washington the almost surefire way to get to the bottom of things is to take the same advice...
"Follow the money."
Michael Flynn's financial ties to Russia
Michael Flynn filed his finalized financial disclosure forms with the Government Accountability Office on Friday, even though he's been out of the job for more than a month. The documents lay out all of the money he was paid by RT, Russia's state-funded media channel for a speaking engagement in Moscow. Flynn was also paid for giving speeches in the U.S. by Russian freight company Volga-Dnepr Airlines and Russian cyber security company Kaspersky Government Security Solutions Inc.
However, none of that information was listed in his first financial disclosure. Flynn's lawyer says he was always planning to put those details in his paperwork after consulting White House lawyers and the Office of Government Ethics about what needed to be included. However, that process was suspended after Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor in February.
It should be noted, however, that at the same time this was happening Flynn was misrepresenting his previous communication and relationships with Russian officials to Congress and the White House. It was the very reason the White House cited when it called for him to step down from the position. So there is plenty of speculation that had Flynn stayed on as National Security Advisor, he may not have reported his financial connections to Russia.
Flynn offered to testify for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, along with the FBI earlier this week in exchange for immunity from prosecution. The White House supported Flynn's decision to open himself up to testifying and President Trump tweeted support for Flynn's decision to ask for immunity. That's despite previous comments by both Flynn and President Trump that people don't ask for immunity unless they've committed a crime.
Neither intelligence committee nor the FBI seems to be jumping at the chance to take the deal. "I think we start out with a very healthy skepticism," said Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. "We know from the filings that were done by the White House on Friday that General Flynn failed to report the money that he received from that RT propaganda arm of the Kremlin, as well as two other Russian entities."
Flynn's financial disclosure questions aren't the only ones Schiff wants answers to. "We also have requested the background security documents that General Flynn filled out to find out if he similarly failed to disclose work that he was doing as a financial agent of a foreign power or receiving financial support from a foreign power."
Schiff isn't likely going to get any answers if Flynn doesn't get immunity, which at this point seems pretty unlikely. If Congress calls on him to testify Flynn will probably plead the fifth. Either way Congress won't get many answers without Flynn's cooperation. So it appears that the only way continue towards the truth without Flynn's help is to further scrutinize his financial holdings and continue to follow the money.
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump's possible conflicts of interest
Senior Advisor Jared Kushner filed his own set of financial disclosure forms on Friday. The documents show that he's stepped down from 267 high-level positions with the companies that make up his family's multi-billion dollar real estate empire. However, Kushner has not divested from it. So he and his wife Ivanka Trump are still set up to benefit financially from the investment. That means they'll have to navigate some rather tricky terrain to stay on a legal and ethical high ground.
Unlike President Trump, as an official member of the White House staff, Kushner is subject to federal laws regarding conflicts of interest. That means any action that he takes that ends up benefiting his financial holdings could come under intense scrutiny. Advisors for Kushner say that because the majority of his financial holdings are tied up in real estate there aren't many things that would be such a conflict of interest that he'd have to divest.
So Kushner may still have to avoid advising the president on certain issues to keep up the appearance that everything is being done above-board. For example, changes to the tax code could help buildings owned by Kushner retain their value better than they do now. For that reason Kushner may choose to step away from those discussions entirely to prevent the need to defend his actions.
Complicating matters as well are Kushner's numerous multi-million dollar lines of credit with banking institutions like Citigroup and Deutsche Bank. His companies also have multiple massive loan agreements with a number of banks. This means that if he were to contribute to talks about reforming the financial industry, such as the repeal of the Dodd-Frank regulations, it would raise a serious red flag.
Kushner's wife Ivanka Trump, who was just appointed to an official White House role this week, hasn't yet filed her own financial disclosure paperwork, but she has placed her fashion brand assets into a trust that's controlled by her brother-in-law and sister-in-law. The White House says the rest of her disclosure should look similar to the one filed by her husband.
All of these financial disclosures put a spotlight on the kind of difficulty members of Trump's administration who haven't divested from their investments will have balancing their responsibilities of running the country with their own financial well-being. There's always been plenty of money flowing through Washington, but President Trump's cabinet has more than ever before. That makes it even more important for every dollar to be tracked. Because who knows where they may lead.