Exclusive: Flynn deposition reveals questions about pressure on U.S. intelligence ahead of Jan. 6

New audio files obtained by CBS News reveal how a congressional investigator pushed retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to former President Donald Trump, to testify about his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and questioned Flynn about whether he pressured military and intelligence officials to assist him with that endeavor.

Flying drone with camera

The audio files are the latest window into the work of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol and its attempt to learn more about the extent of Flynn’s contacts with defense and intelligence officials.

Flynn’s activity has long been a point of interest for the committee, according to two people familiar with the Jan. 6 panel who were not authorized to speak publicly, and it has probed witnesses about whether Flynn pressured people working inside the government as he supported Trump on the outside.   

The committee’s line of inquiry in the Flynn deposition appears to seek specificity about the extent to which Flynn sought out officials, as well as the motivation of any outreach, details on any recommendations he made or documents he circulated, and whether he was paid or acting at the behest of Trump or others.

The committee is scheduled to release a final report on Wednesday, following a procedural meeting on Monday. During the meeting, the panel is planning to consider whether to urge the Justice Department to pursue criminal charges against Trump and others for what they see as fomenting an insurrection and for conspiring to defraud the U.S. government, according to the two people familiar with the committee who were not authorized to speak publicly. 

Due to his high profile and continued support from right-wing groups that attempted to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s election, Flynn was issued a subpoena by the committee early in the investigation as a potential key witness. But Flynn declined during his March 10, 2022 deposition to offer any remarks of note about his conduct and instead repeatedly invoked his right against self-incrimination as outlined in the Fifth Amendment. 

Still, the questions asked of Flynn provide a prism into the committee’s investigative targets at the time as it worked to map out the sprawling network of Trump associates who were pursuing various strategies to keep Trump in the presidency. 

Flynn’s attorney, Jesse R. Binnall, said in a statement that Flynn believes the Jan. 6 Committee is engaged in a “witch hunt.”

“When the January 6th Committee engaged in political theater to harass an American hero, General Flynn availed himself of his constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment, upon the advice of counsel,” Binnall said in a statement to CBS News. “That he chose not to dignify their absurd questions and baseless conspiracy theories with a response was necessary to combat yet another political witch hunt.  America’s founders had the foresight to write the Fifth Amendment for [situations] just like this one.”

Flynn invoked the Fifth Amendment throughout his interview, which former federal prosecutor Scott Fredricksen said is understandable for someone who decides to invoke it. Witnesses who do that, Fredricksen said, “have to take the Fifth to all questions.”

“They can’t just pick and choose, ‘Some questions I’m going to take the Fifth and some I’m going to answer,'” Fredricksen said. “They have to take across the board, a blanket assertion of the Fifth Amendment, so there’s nothing that can be read into whether or not there’s actual evidence here.”

A spokesman for the House select committee declined to comment.

Flynn was not only an ally during Trump’s final days in office but a central player with access to Trump and a wide network across political, legal, and military fronts. Flynn participated in a heated Dec. 18, 2020 Oval Office meeting where he and others encouraged Trump to take dramatic steps to stay in power, according to several Trump advisers who attended the meeting or were briefed on it. And in an interview with Newsmax after the 2020 election, Flynn said, “People out there talk about martial law like it’s something that we’ve never done.” 

Since Trump exited the presidency, Flynn has remained active, speaking to crowded rallies where he rails against what he calls the “deep state” and advocates for a “great awakening” in a “spiritual war” over the future of the nation. He has also shared the stage with Trump’s son, Eric Trump, among other Trump allies.

Flynn’s deposition took place with the retired lieutenant general and David Warrington, his lawyer at the time, appearing virtually before the House select committee. Some video clips of that deposition were featured in the public committee hearings held earlier this year. But the content in those clips was limited in scope, showing brief exchanges between Flynn and Rep. Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican and Trump critic who is vice chair of the committee.

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The audio files obtained by CBS News show other exchanges, frequently with Dan George, the committee’s senior investigative counsel, asking Flynn questions. 

GEORGE: General Flynn, did you ever encourage anyone to enter the Capitol on January 6, 2021, in order to disrupt the joint session of Congress?

FLYNN: The Fifth.

From the beginning of the deposition, George pushed Flynn to detail any engagement he may have had with officials inside the government who could have used their positions to help him with his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.   

GEORGE: Between November 3rd, 2020 and January 20th, 2021, did you have any conversations with any officials at the Department of Defense regarding election fraud or other irregularities in the 2020 election?

FLYNN: The Fifth.

Moments later, George asked Flynn about contacts with intelligence officials.

GEORGE: Between November 3, 2020 and January 20, 2021, did you have any conversations with any current or former officials at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence regarding election fraud or other irregularities in the 2020 presidential elections?

FLYNN: The Fifth.

One element clearly of interest to the committee is Flynn’s private appeal to Ezra Cohen, who was serving at the Defense Department as acting under secretary for intelligence, during the final months of the Trump presidency and ahead of the Capitol attack. Cohen had previously managed the intelligence division for the National Security Council in the Trump White House, first serving with Flynn and then with National Security Adviser and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

In his 2021 book “Betrayal,” ABC News’ Jonathan Karl first reported that Flynn reached out to Cohen after the 2020 election. According to the book, Flynn privately encouraged Cohen to join him and take part in an “epic showdown over the election results” and Flynn told Cohen that federal orders needed to be “signed, that ballots need to be seized, and that extraordinary measures needed to be taken to stop Democrats from stealing the election.”

Flynn has not directly addressed the alleged exchanges with Cohen but stated on social media, in response to other questions about his comments and remarks, that he was not seeking a coup in the U.S.

Flynn has not directly addressed the alleged exchanges with Cohen.

During the deposition, Flynn was asked several times about whether he pressured Cohen.

GEORGE: In your phone call with Mr. Cohen. Did you tell him that he needed to return to the United States from his trip abroad because, quote, something’s about to happen, unquote?

FLYNN: The Fifth.

GEORGE: What was about to happen when you said something is about to happen to Mr. Cohen?

FLYNN: The Fifth.

Flynn was then asked if he called Cohen back at another point in December 2020.

GEORGE: And during the second phone call with Mr. Cohen, did you tell him that, quote, We need to have the military take over the election and redo the election, unquote? Or something like that?

FLYNN: The Fifth.

GEORGE: Did you say anything to the effect of getting the military involved in the 2020 presidential election?

FLYNN: The Fifth.

According to Karl’s book, Flynn became enraged with Cohen when Cohen refused to go along with Flynn’s suggestion and called Cohen a “quitter” for saying the election was over. 

A person close to Cohen told CBS News that Flynn called Cohen twice and that Cohen told Flynn he needed to move on. The person added that Cohen, alarmed by his conversation with Flynn, reported the call to the acting defense secretary. Cohen later spoke with the House select committee at the committee’s request, according to two people familiar with the committee who were not authorized to speak publicly. 

Beyond those reported instances of Flynn engaging a sitting intelligence official, the House investigator probed whether Flynn used other channels to work his contacts.

According to the audio files obtained by CBS News, the committee investigator asked Flynn during the deposition about an evidence exhibit which seems to show a possible email Flynn sent to a former top Trump administration intelligence official, Richard Grenell, in the weeks after the 2020 presidential election.

GEORGE: Pull up exhibit number 11, please. General Flynn, can you see what I’m showing there as exhibit number 11?

FLYNN: I can see, yeah, the bottom, I guess the bottom part.

GEORGE: Yes, we’re focused on the bottom, which is an e-mail dated Friday, December 11, 2020, at 3:56 p.m.

FLYNN: I can see the email.

GEORGE: Okay. And in that email, it says, ‘Ric, per our call. This needs to be kept in very tight channels. I’d like to determine if this letter is authentic. If it is, we have bigger problems than even I can imagine. Thank you, Mike.’ With the signature [box], Michael Flynn, Lieutenant General USA, retired.’ General Flynn, are you the person who sent that email dated November 11, 2020 at 3:50, excuse me, at December 11, 2020 at 3:56 p.m., as shown there in exhibit number 11?

FLYNN: The Fifth.

CBS News reached out to Grenell, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany and former acting Director of National Intelligence, to discuss the committee’s probing of the email. He issued a statement criticizing CBS News coverage, stating, in part, “You and CBS News have lost all credibility on what the truth is.”

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Later in the Flynn deposition, the Jan. 6 committee investigator states that the committee knows that Flynn contacted Anthony Tata, a retired brigadier general whose television commentary was well-liked by Trump, in December 2020. In the days after the election, Trump installed Tata in the Pentagon as the “senior official performing the duties of the undersecretary of Defense for policy,” as described by CNBC. 

GEORGE: We understand that around December 2020, you contacted Mr. Anthony Tata from the Department of Defense regarding the 2020 election. Is that true?

FLYNN: The Fifth.

In a statement to CBS News, Tata said, in part, “In December 2020, I never spoke with Mike Flynn about anything. I had no foreknowledge of what transpired at the [Capitol] on January 6, 2021, and completely denounce what occurred.”

Flynn’s ties to right-wing groups were also under scrutiny throughout the deposition, particularly his links to the 1st Amendment Praetorian, which The New York Times has described as a “right-wing paramilitary group that was involved in a less publicly visible yet still expansive effort to keep” Trump in the White House, and whose members sometimes use the shorthand “1AP.” That group’s leader has claimed that he provided Flynn with security in December 2020.

During the deposition, Flynn declined to discuss 1AP and related right-wing groups, again invoking his right against self-incrimination as outlined in the Fifth Amendment. 

GEORGE: Did you ever discuss with any members of 1AP expectations or plans for January 6, 2021?

FLYNN: The Fifth.

The committee went on to ask questions about Flynn’s relationships with attorneys Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, two Trump allies who worked on legal challenges to the 2020 election and made unfounded claims about voting machines. Wood told CNBC last year that he hosted Flynn at his South Carolina estate and said, “Flynn was here on Thanksgiving because he carved the turkey.”

George pushed Flynn during the deposition in March to share more about those November 2020 meetings and about the possibility that the behind-the-scenes deliberations among Flynn, Wood, and Powell and their allies, just days after the election, fueled a broader and coordinated attempt to overturn the result.

GEORGE: And who else was at Mr. Wood’s estate when you were there around Thanksgiving?

FLYNN:  The Fifth.

GEORGE: Mr. Wood has said that Ms. Powell and others set up in his living room in one of his sunrooms and had computers and whiteboards. He described it as an election central. Does that sound like an accurate characterization of what you saw when you were there?

FLYNN: The Fifth.

Flynn, who earlier this month appeared before a Georgia grand jury investigating whether Trump and his allies worked to overturn that state’s election result, was asked during the March 2022 Jan. 6 committee deposition about whether he, Powell, and Wood and others engaged with state leaders and if they pressured them to certify Trump as the winner. 

Flynn’s response: “The Fifth.”

CBS News was unable to reach Wood or Powell for comment. 

But it wasn’t just Lin Wood’s estate that drew the committee’s interest as a setting where Flynn might have been active. He was also asked about whether he appeared at The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and the nearby Willard Intercontinental Hotel on Jan. 5, 2021. 

On the eve of the insurrection, hundreds of right-wing groups congregated outside the Willard, which is blocks away from the White House, all as Trump allies, such as Stephen K. Bannon, worked in “war rooms” inside the hotel took steps to pressure congressional Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence to block the congressional certification of Biden’s election. 

Flynn’s response to questions about the night of Jan. 5, 2021 was, once again, “The Fifth.”

Grace Kazarian contributed to this report.


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