Michael Flynn may be headed to prison for lying to the FBI, but for now he’s enjoying his freedom.
Donald Trump’s former national security adviser appeared onstage to endorse a Republican congressional candidate last month and on Thursday hopped an Amtrak train to Manhattan for what conservative organizers billed as an invitation-only “no holds barred” foreign policy speech.
The private appearance at an event hosted by the London Center for Policy Research was the latest evidence that Flynn, disgraced in the eyes of many former admirers, has become something of a celebrity among Trump supporters who see him not as a villain but as a victim of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
“I’m doing great,” Flynn told a POLITICO reporter Thursday as he was exiting midtown’s Union League Club before declining to take questions, including about what he discussed inside. “I don’t want to talk to you,” he said. “You should work for TMZ instead of POLITICO. You’re like paparazzi.”
Flynn’s recent appearances mark a turning point for the retired lieutenant general, once a standout military intelligence specialist now better known for dining with Vladimir Putin in Moscow in 2015 and lying to the FBI and his White House colleagues about his contacts with the Russia ambassador to the U.S.
“Gen. Flynn is moving on with his life and this speech is part of that endeavor,” said his brother, Joseph Flynn, who is spearheading a legal defense fund to help Michael Flynn pay his attorney bills. “There are lots of people who want to hear his voice again.”
Hours after his New York appearance, Flynn suffered a blow to his public image with the release of private memos written by then-FBI Director James Comey about his interactions with Trump. “The guy has serious judgment issues,” Comey recounted Trump privately saying of Flynn at a January 2017 dinner. Trump fired Flynn weeks later, after it emerged that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to Washington shortly after the election.
A photo posted on Instagram by the London Center’s vice president, Anthony Shaffer, shows Flynn in conversation with Shaffer as the two sit in green leather armchairs beneath an oil portrait of Ulysses S. Grant hanging on a wood-paneled wall. Flynn appeared as part of the center’s “Chairman’s Circle Lecture Series,” to which admission costs $10,000, according to a document Shaffer also posted. Other speakers in the series include former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Sen. Joe Lieberman, former CIA Director James Woolsey and former national security adviser Robert “Bud” McFarlane.
A spokesman for the low-profile conservative think tank said Flynn had not been paid for the appearance, after branding a reporter’s query on the subject “FAKE NEWS !!!!!!!!” An online invitation for the event said Flynn would be speaking on “Directions in Foregin [sic] Policy.”
The New York symposium was at least the second public event for Flynn since he pleaded guilty last December. He received a standing ovation when he appeared last month at a campaign event in Southern California for Omar Navarro, a Republican making a long-shot bid against one of Trump’s most outspoken critics, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters.