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The FBI is seeking to determine if former national security advisor Michael Flynn met with senior Turkish officials ahead of President Trump's inauguration to discuss the possibility of Flynn secretly carrying out directives from Ankara while in the White House, according to published reports.
As part of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's probe into Russian interference with U.S. elections, witnesses have been questioned about an alleged December 2016 meeting between Flynn and senior Turkish officials at the 21 club in New York, not far from Trump Tower, sources told NBC.
The questions were part of a criminal inquiry into Flynn's paid lobbying efforts for Turkey after he was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and joined the Trump campaign as a senior advisor.
Mueller is said to be investigating whether Flynn discussed orchestrating the return to Turkey of Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric who is a chief rival of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, four sources told NBC.
Investigators are also reportedly examining whether Flynn and other participants discussed a deal to free Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who is jailed in the U.S. on federal charges that he helped Iran skirt U.S. sanctions.
Mueller is looking into whether such a deal, if successful, would have led to up to $15 million in secret payments to Flynn, sources told NBC.
In a statement, Flynn's lawyers dismissed the allegations as false.
"Out of respect for the process of the various investigations regarding the 2016 campaign, we have intentionally avoided responding to every rumor or allegation raised in the media," they wrote.
"But today's news cycle has brought allegations about General Flynn, ranging from kidnapping to bribery, that are so outrageous and prejudicial that we are making an exception to our usual rule: they are false."
Flynn was forced out as Trump's national security advisor in February after only 24 days due to his failure to disclose meetings with the Russian ambassador amid the inquiries into Russian meddling in the presidential election.