Last Friday, President-elect Donald Trump announced retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was forced out of his position running the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, as his choice for national security adviser. Following the announcement, news organizations highlighted conflict of interest issues Lt. Gen. Flynn would bring with him to the position, particularly regarding his consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, which lobbied for foreign clients even as Lt. Gen. Flynn sat in on classified intelligence briefings with the Trump campaign.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to the Trump transition team on Friday requesting additional information on Lt. Gen. Flynn’s potential conflicts of interest. Rep. Cummings’ letter specifically cited the Flynn Intel Group’s work for Turkish interests.
But the consulting company is not the only business interest that could conflict with Lt. Gen. Flynn’s new role in the Trump administration. He also sits on the board of a drone manufacturing company that contracts with the federal government.
On May 4, 2016, when Lt. Gen. Flynn was already advising then-candidate Trump on foreign policy, Drone Aviation Holding Corp. announced that he was joining the company as the vice chairman of its board of directors as well as its Strategic Advisory Board. The company’s press release said that Lt. Gen. Flynn would “work with Drone Aviation’s growing list of Department of Defense (‘DoD’), government agency and commercial customers.” Drone Aviation’s CEO, Jay Nussbaum, also said Lt. Gen. Flynn would help the company “advance our growing DoD business.”
According to a company filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Lt. Gen. Flynn’s agreement with Drone Aviation provides him with a $3,000 monthly director fee and 100,000 shares of restricted stock set to vest over 24 months.
Lt. Gen. Flynn told the Wall Street Journal before he was announced as Trump’s national security advisor that he would sever ties with his consulting firm if he joined the administration. It is unclear what he will do with regards to his Drone Aviation position. Lt. Gen. Flynn’s agreement with the company also allows him to earn “a pro rata portion” of his stock if he leaves the company early:
On Nov. 14, Drone Aviation filed a quarterly report with the SEC, revealing that the company “recognized a total of $60,495 expense for the pro rata portion of shares earned by Lt. Gen. Flynn during the nine months ended September 30, 2016.”
Previous national security advisers have faced problems related to stocks they owned. In 1997, Sandy Berger, then-President Clinton’s national security adviser paid a $23,043 fine for failing to sell stock in company for 15 months after government attorneys advised him to sell. As part of his settlement, Berger acknowledged that matters that could have affected the company came before him during that time period, when he was serving as deputy national security advisor.
As national security advisor, Lt. Gen. Flynn is very likely going to deal with issues related to drones. It is unclear, however, what the Trump administration’s drone policy will be as the president-elect has said little about the subject. The national defense and foreign policy sections of the Trump campaign’s website make no mention of drone policy and neither does the transition team’s defense and national security section.
As Vice’s Ben Sullivan pointed out last week, Lt. Gen. Flynn has been critical in the past about using drones to drop bombs, telling Al Jazeera in 2015, “When you drop a bomb from a drone… you are going to cause more damage than you are going to cause good.” Drone Aviation’s unmanned aircraft are mainly used for surveillance and information purposes.
Lt. Gen. Flynn’s consulting firm has already raised red flags. If President-elect Trump is going to keep his promise to “drain the swamp,” he needs to make sure his national security advisor is free of conflicts of interest arising from any of his business ventures.