Mike Flynn Jr. was your standard privileged, right-wing Millennial who enjoyed golfing with his boys and Twitter-bashing Hillary Clinton—until his father resigned as national security adviser for lying about his relationship with Russia. Now Junior is stuck pleading his own innocence (through a fringe pro-Trump blogger) while Mueller hunts for the truth.
Mike Flynn Jr. is crazy about golf and has the tattoo on his arm to prove it. He enjoys reggae and stoner flicks like Pineapple Express. And he loves his hometown football team so much that after moving from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., he still wears Panthers jerseys to Redskins games. Flynn Jr., a 34-year-old former golf instructor with a stubbly beard, is “super chill,” as someone who has known him since childhood puts it—just a “pretty average dude.”
Of course, there’s nothing average about the mess that Flynn Jr. now finds himself wrapped up in. Last month, NBC News reported that he’s being investigated by special prosecutor Robert Mueller—and now suddenly new questions are surfacing about this particular “chill dude” and how he seems to have gotten himself mixed up in the Trump/Russia saga.
Before joining his father—the former national security adviser, Gen. Mike Flynn—as an apparent target of Mueller’s probe, the younger Flynn had been employed for years by his dad, serving as chief of staff at the Flynn Intel Group. He also did some work, last fall, for the Trump transition team and raised eyebrows for helping to disseminate the Pizzagate story—that Internet conspiracy theory claiming Hillary Clinton’s friends had imprisoned child sex slaves at a D.C. pizzeria. In fact, Flynn Jr.’s tweets promulgating that canard got him booted from Trump World in December, after a man drove to Washington to free the nonexistent sex slaves and opened fire in the pizzeria with an assault rifle.
That the younger Flynn—a man whose résumé is devoid of political experience—would end up on Mueller’s radar speaks to a crazy truth in the widening Trump/Russia investigation. For every sophisticated operator like Paul Manafort, who has spent a lifetime in the trenches of political warfare and now finds himself entangled in Mueller’s probe, there’s also a guy like Mike Flynn Jr.—a pretty average dude swept into a roiling case of monumental importance. That means that not only do Trump and his team have to worry about the potential misdeeds perpetrated by the president’s men, but they must also fret about the president’s dudes—and whatever malfeasance these amateurs may have committed out of sheer ignorance.
When it comes to the Flynns, the focus of Mueller’s investigation remains murky. It’s been reported that Gen. Flynn may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by apparently failing to disclose work he’d done to benefit the Turkish government—work that may have bordered on the sensational. At one point, the elder Flynn was reportedly involved in conversations about a plan to whisk an enemy of the Turkish government—a Muslim cleric named Fethullah Gülen, who currently lives in exile in a compound in rural Pennsylvania—out of the United States, handing him over to Turkey to face punishment.
“I wouldn’t expect him to know who Farrah Fawcett is, let alone a FARA filing.”
While most everyone in Washington believes Flynn Sr.’s goose is already cooked—Trump’s own lawyer mistakenly suggested as much in an e-mail exchange with a British prankster posing as a White House official—one can glimpse the outlines of a new defense taking shape, a defense in which the Flynns may claim ignorance.
Essentially, says a senior Trump transition official, the Flynns may try to mount a Pretty Average Dude defense. The myriad legal hassles the Flynns now face stem not from nefarious intent, the official argued, but from the fact that Flynn Jr. was in charge of the Flynn Intel Group’s paperwork and was unqualified for his position. That’s not to say, the official stressed, that Flynn Jr. would become “the fall guy,” just that he believed Junior was in way over his head. “I wouldn’t expect him to know who Farrah Fawcett is, let alone a FARA filing,” said the official.
According to a person who worked closely with the Flynn Intel Group and told me they are cooperating with Mueller’s team, Flynn Jr.—who accompanied his father to Moscow for a December 2015 gala hosted by the Russian state broadcaster RT—made several other forays abroad with his father, which, this person says, are now one focus of investigative scrutiny. “I’ve been asked about trips and what I know about who went where and why and how long they were gone,” said the person, who declined to elaborate on exactly who was asking the questions.
As chief of staff for his father’s consulting firm, Flynn Jr.’s role extended well beyond tagging along with his father on business trips. “Many people considered Junior the bagman, meaning that he was responsible for making sure that all the deposits were properly made, that his father had deniability,” said the former Flynn Intel associate, who added that Flynn Jr. also kept the company’s calendar and organized meetings. (This job description comports with one that disappeared from Flynn Jr.’s LinkedIn profile in recent days in which he claimed to have handled the firm’s finances and “arranged meetings with international clients.” According to his uncle, Joe Flynn, his duties also included closing bank accounts and liquidating assets when the business shut down in November.)
Flynn Jr. declined to comment, as one usually does in Washington when one may be the subject of a special prosecutor’s investigation (his lawyer, Barry Coburn, refrained from speaking with me, too). But Flynn Jr. did do something that one does not usually do when federal investigators appear to be crawling up one’s ass: He called a friend of his—a man named Lucian Wintrich—who told me that Flynn shared with him a number of things he wanted Wintrich to pass along to me.
Wintrich, I should note, is not a professional crisis communications specialist, but is instead a recent Bard graduate as well as the White House correspondent for a pro-Trump blog called the Gateway Pundit. He is further known for a photography exhibition called “Twinks for Trump” that features scantily clad men in “Make America Great Again” hats, which he displayed at a party at the Republican National Convention last year. Wintrich called me to relay several scattershot points on behalf of Flynn Jr., reading from notes he said he’d taken during their conversation:
For starters, Wintrich conveyed to me, Flynn Jr. was in “very close” contact with his father during the campaign and the transition, and thus he can vouch that his father was not engaged in any illicit activities. “There was obviously no shady business,” Wintrich assured me on behalf of his friend. “[Flynn Jr.] was like, ‘I would’ve seen it if any of these charges were accurate.'”
Also, according to Wintrich, Mike Flynn Sr.’s intentions, as judged by his son, were totally pure: “His father really expected nothing else than he wanted to serve to help the American republic,” Wintrich noted, adding, “His father was one of the only people to call out the threat of radical Islam.”
Wintrich also pointed out that Flynn Jr. remains disappointed that the Trump White House ousted his father—a move that Flynn Jr. regarded as a capitulation to the mainstream media. In fact, if not for the media and its fascination with Flynn Jr.’s own association with the Pizzagate myth, he might be employed at the White House, too, said Wintrich. “He worked for the Trump transition team,” Wintrich told me. “I don’t know if you knew that, and he was told by those people he was doing a fantastic job and was told he would potentially get a position in the administration, but then the witch hunt started.” Basically, says Wintrich, “He’s a really sweet guy, Flynn Jr., and he’s very frustrated at the sort of witch hunt that was going on.”
Wintrich’s efforts as a go-between to Flynn Jr. notwithstanding, plenty of mystery remains. For instance, what exactly was Flynn Jr. up to with his father these past few years? And has anything in his “super chill” life prepared him for what he’ll face now that he’s at the center of the biggest political scandal since Watergate?
Known within the tight-knit Flynn clan as “Michael G,” Flynn Jr. grew up on military bases around the country, including at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, where he enjoyed free rein at that base’s two golf courses, where he would often play after school. “He had a good old-fashioned coming-of-age American-white-male story,” said a person who has known Flynn Jr. since his childhood, adding that the army brat and his younger brother, Matthew, “liked a good party.”
In 2003, he enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to study business, and he later enrolled at the Golf Academy of America in Myrtle Beach, which led to a couple of years as a golf instructor and an internship with the PGA. He’s remained close with his old boss, a PGA teaching pro named Noah Vinyard, to whom Flynn still turns for golf tips. “He’ll video his swing and be like, ‘Hey, dude, what do you think?'” Vinyard said.
By 2010, Flynn Jr. had met his wife, Jennifer, whom he married that year in a ceremony in Newport, Rhode Island, near where his dad had grown up in a working-class family. His father’s friend General Stanley McChrystal had just recently been freed up to attend the wedding, relieved of his command in Afghanistan by President Obama following the publication of an explosive Rolling Stone profile.
When his dad launched the Flynn Intel Group in 2014, the younger Flynn jumped at the chance to work alongside his father. And a year later, as Donald Trump was beginning his presidential campaign, Flynn Jr. became an early supporter. “He was more of a Trumphead than Michael Sr.,” says the person who has known Flynn Jr. since childhood, adding that they find that Flynn Jr.’s political views make a jarring contrast with his “hippy-dippy” personality. “Weirdly, he’s very ‘One Love,’ but he’s also very alt-right.”
Soon the father and son were both espousing the shared belief that e-mails deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private server could be recovered and would incriminate her. Flynn Jr., tweeting in January 2016, wrote:
The Millennial Flynn enthusiastically voiced other views on social media, and he struck up relationships with young, pro-Trump Twitter personalities like Milo Yiannopoulos, Jack Posobiec, former Sputnik News reporter Cassandra Fairbanks, and Wintrich.
In December, the day before Flynn Jr. was booted from the Trump transition, and as Pizzagate coverage was reaching maximum saturation on cable news, I was sitting in the Orange County, California, kitchen of Mike Cernovich, interviewing the “new right” agitator when his phone rang and he ducked into the backyard to take a call from Flynn Jr.
Last week, I asked Cernovich about that phone call. He insisted that he and Flynn had not been discussing Pizzagate—that in the course of their many conversations they only talk about “boring bro stuff.”
“We didn’t talk about campaign issues,” Cernovich said. “We didn’t talk about how to make anything trend [on Twitter].”
Cernovich, who broke several national-security-related stories on his Twitter feed during the first months of the Trump administration, also says that Flynn Jr. was never a source of his. “I wish he would’ve leaked me stuff, but it was pretty much ‘Hey, man, how’s the family?'” Cernovich says.
“He’s innocent, just a bit of an idiot on social media,” says a person who has known Flynn Jr. since childhood.
Flynn Jr. continued to rub shoulders with the same crowd and was frequently seen at Washington-area events sponsored by pro-Trump activists who once identified as “alt-right” but have since rebranded as “new right” to distance themselves from white supremacists. He attended the “DeploraBall” inaugural celebration at the National Press Club, the Gateway Pundit’s “Real News Correspondents’ Dinner,” as well as June’s “Rally Against Political Violence” at the White House.
But Flynn Jr. has resisted becoming a public face of such events, perhaps given his family’s ongoing legal headaches. “We wanted more involvement from him,” says Wintrich. “He didn’t really want to put himself in the limelight.”
Those who know Flynn Jr. well suggest he wouldn’t be terribly useful as a spokesman for a movement anyway. “He’s innocent, just a bit of an idiot on social media,” opines the person who has known him since childhood. “He’s kind of just like a rambunctious kid.” His uncle Joe calls his 34-year-old nephew “a good kid,” using the same language that President Trump employed to dismiss news that his 39-year-old son, Don Jr., had met with Russians in the middle of the campaign.
Whether Flynn Jr. is particularly worried about Mueller’s investigation is unclear, though he hasn’t tempered his incendiary social-media output much since the special prosecutor was appointed. In August, Flynn Jr. tweeted that CNN should be declared a terrorist organization. Earlier this year, following a terrorist attack in London, he posted a photo to Facebook of white people attending to a person sprawled out on the pavement while a black woman in a headscarf walks past them looking at her phone, adding the caption “A picture worth a thousand words.”
Indeed, the picture that has emerged of Flynn Jr. over the past several months is that of a man still committed to those far-flung forces that helped give Trump the White House. In June, Flynn Jr. attended a book party at the press club for Posobiec and asked the Twitter provocateur to sign a copy of the self-published tome for his father, under whom Posobiec, a Navy Reserve intelligence officer, once served. (Posobiec had raised eyebrows a month earlier when he was the first person to tweet the hashtag #MacronLeaks and link to computer files belonging to French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign. It’s suspected that those files were stolen and released by Russian hackers. Posobiec told me he’s never spoken to anyone from Russia and simply found the files when they were publicly posted on the pro-Trump message-board site 4Chan.)
Last month, just before the Flynn family launched a legal-defense fund, Posobiec told me that Flynn Jr. reached out to him privately, asking him to promote the fundraising efforts.
Posobiec said he was more than happy to oblige Flynn Jr.’s request. “I think he’s a great guy,” Posobiec said.
Ben Schreckinger is a GQ correspondent in Washington, D.C.
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