In this exclusive interview, the first of two parts, we hear from Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn about his experience these last four years, when “the deep state buried me six feet under the ground,” as he describes it. We discuss what attracted him to then-candidate Donald Trump, why he believes he was targeted, and his thoughts on America’s current political moment.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: General Michael Flynn, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Gen. Michael Flynn: Thanks for having me, Jan. Great to see you; great to finally meet you in person. And, I really appreciate all that you’re doing for the voices of America that have been silenced for so many years—you’re bringing those voices out. So thanks for all that The Epoch Times is doing for this country.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it’s incredibly appreciated.
Gen. Flynn: I mean it, I mean it! And I mean it sincerely. There are organizations out there in the media that are—I’ve said this before—they’re doing a disservice to not only your profession, to journalism, but they’re doing a disservice to, really, the entire idea of freedom of speech.
So in this censorship that’s going on in various social media, and frankly, the fake news that exists, I really applaud The Epoch Times for really being courageous in the world of the media today. Because in the past, and certainly with some of these other large media organizations, they’re crushing America’s voices.
Mr. Jekielek: You know, if I dare say it, I think we were one of the few that actually covered your story pretty well. I guess this is one of the reasons we’re sitting here today. Before we get into talking a bit more about media and the current state of things, because I know you have plenty of thoughts about that, I wanted to go back into the past a little bit.
A lot of our audience are interested in your story and what happened. And there’s some kind of critical moments that I’ve been wondering about, specifically. There’s some time in the past where, of course, the FBI became interested in you; they came to do that famous—or infamous—meeting at the White House where they interviewed you. When did you realize, at some point, that everything wasn’t up and up with what the FBI was doing?
Gen. Flynn: I think years before all that, when you began to see the upper tier of the FBI act with arrogance in their attitude to other institutions in the government. Their sort of abrasiveness, cultural abrasiveness, and it permeated from the top. So if you understand organizations and large organizations, whatever the culture is that’s at the top, that will permeate all the way down through the wider organization.
In the case of the FBI, it’s a very large organization, and they’re all over the United States. And I think they’re in 83, maybe 90, countries around the world. So there’s a— and I use that word kindly I think, I could probably use a stronger word—but there’s a cultural abrasiveness and arrogance that existed at the top. And I ran into that in my military career, and then I think, slightly after that.
And I always knew that there were a few people there—what we’ve learned to be really seriously not just sour apples, but bad, bad apples—that had it out for me. For different reasons in the FBI, and then of course as I transitioned into sort of the political life and helping out not only any candidate that was running against Hillary Clinton, but teaming up with Donald Trump. Then you began to see this larger effort that was not only the FBI, but probably in what we’ve learned are elements within the Department of Justice, and definitely elements within the National Intelligence Community—specifically within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Central Intelligence Agency.
All of those things. And those things are people that are at the upper tier, upper crest of our country. And they don’t operate independently; they don’t operate without direction; they don’t operate without coordination. And what we have learned, from my case certainly, is it went all the way to the top.
So it went all the way to the Obama administration, to the very famous meeting in the Oval Office with [former] President Obama and Vice President Biden at the time, and others that were in there. And maybe you’d highlight those who were in that meeting, because there were others in that meeting. And so all that story goes back probably a year, at least a year. So we’re in the … my head right now is sort of in the early January 2017 era or timeframe. So that goes back to certainly the early January 2016 timeframe. And it actually permeated all the way back, probably, another year or two.
One of the things that hasn’t really been talked about too much—though what were some of the things that I took on—was the Iranian nuclear deal. I was asked, as a subject matter expert, to testify to the House and a committee within the House of Representatives, and I went in and testified about what was going on with the Iranian nuclear deal. And I think that testimony was, if I remember, it was June of 2015.
They signed the deal in the July timeframe. And then we learned about all these billions and billions of dollars that were shipped over there in the dark of night. Well, if you go back and look at my testimony, just look at the opening statement. When they put Mike Flynn up on the chalkboard and they start writing down all the things that they don’t like about him, that’s probably check number one.
Because that was the single foreign policy initiative—disastrous initiative—that the Obama administration took on with the number one state sponsor of terrorism—a country that was killing our men and women in uniform; in Afghanistan and Iraq, principally Iraq, and elsewhere around the world. So that was sort of check one. And then there were other elements that then, I believe, began to really hone in on me. And I think the spying on me went way, way past just the campaign.
Mr. Jekielek: So if that was check one, what were the other checks?
Gen. Flynn: The other checks are in uniform in these open hearings for … every year, we do an annual threat assessment to the Senate Intelligence Committee; it’s an open public hearing. And there’s a very famous picture—I think it’s me, Clapper, Brennan, Comey, and, I forget the gentleman’s name, but at the time he was the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
So we’re all lined up there for all the senators, right. And all the cameras, all the stuff that’s theirs, because it’s open, and it’s an annual threat assessment. I believe it was 2014. And they kind of went down the line, and I don’t know whether it was Ted Cruz that was asking it, or one of the senators, asked the same question, “What do you think about ISIS? What do you think about ISIS? What do you think about ISIS?”, to everyone. And I was at the end.
And all those guys basically said, “They’re defeated; they’re on the run; we really have them down on their knees.” And they got to me, and I said, “It’s expanding, and it’s getting worse,” essentially. And I said that because that’s what I believe, and that’s what I saw at that time as the senior military intelligence officer in the Department of Defense, and the head of one of the largest intelligence agencies in the world, the Defense Intelligence Agency.
I had spent nearly five years in combat fighting these guys. I knew how they operated and what they were up to. And I think—no I don’t think, I know—the Obama administration, they wanted to appear as though we were winning the war against ISIS or winning the war against radical Islamist terrorism. And we actually weren’t. Every little snippet, everything that we did, it actually caused an expansion of it.
And I think at the time, if I have my numbers right—I’d be a little bit off, but it’s public, the information is public—I think ISIS at the time, or elements of Al-Qaeda, were in 45 countries. So that’s like, “Wait a second!” And here these guys are, the National Intelligence leadership, all saying, “They’re on the run, nothing to see here, let’s move on”.
And they asked me, and I told them what I believed at the time. It was certainly my belief and what the military intelligence system was saying, from the field and my own experiences. And it was right. It was right.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s interesting. So this is potentially the cost of having a dissenting view. We’re seeing a lot of that these days, right?
Gen. Flynn: Yes. A dissenting view in a free system, in a democracy, in our constitutional republic, should be cherished. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to agree with it, and you can get a whole bunch of other views. You’re going to get views from [others], maybe 180 degrees, but it should be cherished when in fact, in our current institutions at that time. [Not like] I’ll describe, I think, President Trump and how he operates from my time with him.
But under the Obama administration, you toed the line. You toed the line, and if you were dissenting—and as a three-star or a four-star, you’re a political appointee, really. Last promotion you get is the two-star in the military. Most people don’t even understand that everything after that is a political appointment.
Barack Obama had to appoint me, which he did twice for two different jobs, and then I had to get Senate-confirmed for those two positions: Assistant Director of National Intelligence and then the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. So you put me in the job, you put me in the job because you think I was going to kiss up to you, and that’s not my style. Not my style.
The seriousness of not seeking an opposing view, and I’ll tie it into what we’re experiencing today: We have a United States Intelligence Community assessment. I see an Intelligence Community assessment that is going to be presented by the Director of National Intelligence this coming Friday, December 18 and John Ratcliffe who I think is a terrific guy, methodical, thoughtful, and a decent person.
If I had him in front of me, I would tell him that if he has not requested an outside independent assessment from potentially people with a different view than those in the intelligence community—that they do a lot of circular reporting in this town, so it’s like this report comes out, then you read it, you read the same report, and everybody goes, “Did you see that report?” and the next thing you know, everybody’s reporting on the same thing. It’s a complete waste of resources and waste of time, and it would be wrong. The assessment would be wrong.
I’d be very, very interested in knowing if John Ratcliffe will give not only the U.S. Intelligence Community’s assessment, but an outside independent review of foreign influence in this current presidential election that we just went through. That’s where I got caught up because they didn’t want it.
[For me], it took the better part of 20,000 people plus a bunch of soldiers and airmen, marines, navy personnel, intelligence community, military intelligence community, people all over the world, in all these different countries. I said 45 countries, [and] there’s probably more than that, probably more than that. And that was a thorough examination of both what we knew factually, our experiences, our judgments, and our analyses to come up with that soundbite, basically, to me, “What do you think there, General Flynn?”
And I’ll tell you what—that probably started the conversation, I’m sure, in the Oval Office to say, “Get rid of that guy. We can’t have him. Can’t have him because we’re trying to take over this country.” Remember, Barack Obama said he wanted to fundamentally change America. So I would ask you and your audience, what do you think that meant?
Mr. Jekielek: You initially supported President Trump because you wanted to support the person who would win against Hillary. Did I understand that correctly?
Gen. Flynn: Yes. I think that I liked Donald Trump when I first met him. It was supposed to be short, one-on-one meeting, and I forget the exact reason why his guys had reached out to me, but I went down to meet him in New York, met him, and I liked him. I liked him a lot because he is like what you see is what you get, no BS, tough guy.
If you’re in the room with him and there’re others around, and he’s got a decision, even if it’s a secretary or the guy that’s going to be cooking some hamburgers, if you’re in that room and there’s something going on, he’s going to go, “What do you think about all this? What do you think about all this? What do you think about all this?” I like people like that because he wants to hear from everybody. He’ll make the decision, but he wants to hear the views from everybody.
I got involved with him in the summer of 2015. I think it was August. I’ll tell you this one little story about him because it was very impressive for me a little bit later on, but I think it was the first time that I had traveled with him to one of these big campaign stops.
Total downpour in New York, we’re leaving the Trump Tower [where] we all met, just buckets, cats and dogs, raining cats and dogs. We pulled up a couple of these black SUVs. I’m sitting in the vehicle right next to him. Everybody else, you can see scurrying off to run up into the plane so they didn’t get their hair wet.
There were two guys that were like tarmac guys who were working on the airfield, and they were going to pull the chocks off the airplane while they’re preparing to take off, and they’re just soaking wet, and it was cold too. Trump got out of that car—and everybody talks about his hair—he walked out of that car [in the] downpour and he walked over to those two guys. And I was around the corner because, [to me, it’s just] rain; you’re not going to melt.
I’m standing there watching this, and he walks over to these two guys and had a conversation with them for probably 15-20 seconds. He probably said, “Hey, thanks for what you’re doing,” and I saw him pull out a roll of bills and he gave each one of them something. Maybe he gave them a $20, maybe he gave them $100. I don’t know what he gave them, but I saw him hand those guys a tip in the downpour. He could have just walked out of his car, and walked upstairs, and gotten in, and they would have held an umbrella out for him—and he didn’t do that.
I tell you that story because there’s a human side of Donald Trump that it gets out once in a while, and there’s all kinds of crazy stories about him, but when I saw that, I saw a guy that I respected at that moment because to me, those guys were his employees or they were employees of that airfield. But he took a minute to say, “Thank you,” and slip them $20, and I found that to be an extraordinary compliment to them and really a sign of respect for just the working man—and I think that’s what’s in Donald Trump’s heart.
That’s what I saw and among other examples that I always look for. I look for those kinds of things because I was raised, “Yes, ma’am,” “No, ma’am,” “Yes, sir,” “No, sir,” “Thank you,” that kind of a world, in a family that would respect others. So I was looking to see if he had that and that was one of those moments in time.
Now, here I am telling you about it, and I could be saying all kinds of nasty things about Donald Trump. Really, if I wanted to, I could be the most vindictive person against him for having experienced what I just had experienced, but I don’t because it wasn’t his [fault]. I don’t blame him. He wasn’t responsible for something that he didn’t know was going on. Now, I felt that I knew, and now we all know. Now we all know.
It’s very dangerous thing for this experiment in democracy that we are still working our way through, and we’re in another moment in history that was identified by the original founders of our country, what we’re experiencing right now. They had the incredible vision, the Adams, the Jeffersons, the Lockes, the people that were part of creating this great document that has withstood a lot of tests, and we’re in the middle of another one of these big tests. I’m confident that we’ll get through it, but not without a lot more sacrifice.
Mr. Jekielek: This is kind of a fascinating situation. On one hand, it’s really interesting how one small act really defines a person in one’s mind. That’s quite interesting, what you just described. Another point is, you seem to have come out of one giant tribulation and you just walked right into the middle of another one. It might not make sense to everybody to do something like that.
Gen. Flynn: You mean, should I just go find a little beach hut somewhere and go away? The American people saved me. They saved my family and I. If there’s something I’ll get emotional about, it’s that. I don’t know why. [Their] prayer, faith. Have you ever gone scuba diving?
Mr. Jekielek: I have, I have.
Gen. Flynn: You ever done buddy breathing?
Mr. Jekielek: I have.
Gen. Flynn: The American people have been buddy breathing with me for four years. Another way to describe it was the Deep State buried me six feet under the ground, wanted me to die. Somehow, somebody stuck a straw up through that, or a straw was allowed to be stuck up to the air, and I laid down there for four years breathing through that straw. But that straw became wider, and wider, and wider over the years because the American people came to my family’s aid.
I’ll tell that story someday because that’s an amazing story about people that have nothing, and they’re willing to give me everything that they have because they believed in me, they believed in my family, they believed in something that was bigger than what it is that we are about, and thank God they did.
I’ve been buddy breathing for four years down under and the American people [gave] me that oxygen to survive, to get through this, and so I feel like I have a responsibility now. It’s hard to understand but I just feel like I have a responsibility to them, and I’m not going to let them down. I have children, I have grandchildren, and if I can see the future through the eyes of my mother who’s deceased now, who lived for 90 years, and she’s had a terrific life, and she’s a terrific woman, just this unbelievable life that she had, and gave us, and as I look forward through my granddaughter’s eyes, I can see at least 90 years.
So when I think about this next century that we’re already two decades into, and it’s been a century of war so far—2001, 9/11—I know enough about world history and American history, so what are the likely things that we are going to experience in the next 90 years or the next 80 years? Because if my granddaughter lives to the age of my mother, she’ll be alive at the turn of the next century. So what kind of a world do I want to give her? I have a responsibility to do that.
So if I’m given a platform which I think the American public have done that for me. I’m out here fighting because I do not want this country to go the way of the wolf, so to speak. I don’t want that to happen.
I always talk about when somebody says, “That thing is Byzantine.” Like that tie you’ve got on, a Byzantine tie—I’m just joking with you about your tie—but something that’s Byzantine. What does that mean to you?
Mr. Jekielek: It means what you said.
Gen. Flynn: It’s old.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes.
Gen. Flynn: It means it’s old. It’s Byzantine. What was Byzantine? What was it? It was an empire. It’s one of the oldest empires that ever existed. You know, have you ever met a Spartan? Have you ever met an Athenian? Maybe you’ve met a Roman, somebody from Rome, right, but follow me.
There’s these empires that have risen, and then fallen nation states that existed in the history of the world, they don’t exist anymore. Because everybody’s working towards this perfect system, whatever the ideology. The ideologies that we have on the planet today—it’s communism, still a little bit of imperialism, democracy, and Islamism is another one. So there’s these isms, I guess.
We defeated Nazism in the last century, thank God, otherwise—I think I’ve heard a little bit about your life story—we’d all be kneeling at the altar of Adolph Hitler, if it wasn’t for, frankly, the United States of America and the world that recognized we didn’t want that ism. Right? We are now in an era of Americanism, and we have to accept those of us that at least understand—I think a lot of people don’t and that’s fine—that this country won’t last forever.
How, while we’re on this earth, while we’re in this country, help move it along? To keep it alive—to push fresh air back into it every so often and renew it? A lot of our great leaders over the history of our country have talked about sometimes it gets renewed by other reasons or other things. We can get renewed by war. There’s some great quotes out there from some of our founders, but certainly other historic leaders in our time, in our country.
Those are things that are a little bit of philosophy, but it’s real. If we have threats, or adversaries, or competitors, which we do on the world stage, in Russia, China, Europe, and other parts of the world—if we have these adversaries or competitors, or threats—they’re not sitting still and saying, “I think I’ll just sit around, and I’ll just wait and watch and do nothing. We’ll just allow [it].” [They don’t sit still] because they don’t like our system.
We have competing systems, certainly with communism, so they see their system being better than ours. There’s competition. We have this a moral fabric in our country that’s being ripped apart through the breakdown of the family and that’s been ripped apart through the massive cultural shift in our academic institutions, from elementary school, all the way up through, you know, high school and definitely undergraduate and graduate programs, which are still really pretty good.
But the shift in the last certainly 20 years has just been extraordinary in terms of attitudes about America. I mean, you guys have seen, you’ve reported on a lot of this stuff. It’s been terrific reporting.
Other nations around the world look at us and say, “That’s a moral society, because they take care of people, and they allow all of what is human, what is in our DNA, which is this desire for freedom. We have this in us, in our culture, and in the fabric of our American society. That is being usurped; it’s being taken; it’s being attacked. It’s being attacked through education, the breakdown of the family, and other components—certainly the expansion of our institutions in our government.
I give you one example in rough numbers. I took over one of the largest intel agencies in the world, a large agency within the Department of Defense, the Defense Intelligence Agency. At the time when I took it over in 2012, it was roughly about 17,000-plus employees and then a couple of thousand contractors, but let’s just say 20,000.
Well, the day before 9-11, the 10th, 9/10/2001, that institution was about roughly 3000 to 3500 people. That’s a multiplication of six, seven, in a decade. That’s one agency in the government. There’s this incredible growth of the federal government. What that growth does and what the bureaucracy does is it chokes itself to death. Okay? And when I say it chokes itself to death, it chokes the country to death.
As we’re experiencing all this COVID stuff, if it’s a 99.99 percent recovery rate, then why are we responding by shutting down the lifeblood of the United States of America, and therefore the world, which is what we’re doing?
We’re in Washington, D.C. right now, all you do is go walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and you can see the plywood on beautiful restaurants and stores that used to be thriving in an area that’s one of the wealthiest areas in the country, which is another issue that the American public would believe but are probably upset about: Why is this area among the wealthiest counties in the country, while the rest of America is suffering.
Did any government employees lose their paychecks when they were told, “Now, you got to stay at home because of COVID?” You’re going to do online work from home. How many salon workers, how many restaurant workers, they lost their paychecks because they weren’t getting money from the government, and so the government had to respond by, I think their initial checks were $3 trillion, and then they dispersed checks, while government employees continue to get paid. Now, they can say [that] they’re critical, their mission-essential. Anyway, I’m a little bit on the tangent, but we have a moral fabric in this country that we cannot lose sight of.
We can reflect on history and look at periods of time and find indicators of decline. Let’s just assume that we’re not waxing, we’re waning, then what do we do about it? Do we continue to attack a president who frankly could go do many other things but he’s given up a great life because he loves the country?
What we’re doing is we’re attacking him and just breaking him down. Why? Is it because we want America to break down as well? I think the answer to that is yes. I think that there are people in this country, and definitely competitors, adversaries, and threats that would love to see that.
All you have to do is just study a little bit of Chinese history and you know what their 100-year plan is. All the Chinese leaders that I’m certain will watch this, they’ll say, “He’s right, but we still got him.” I hope I’m wrong. This recent madness with this hypocrite congressman, whose name I won’t say, who was caught up with a liaison with a Chinese spy.
If you scratch the windowpane because there’s a little bit of ice on it, you scratch it, and the warmth of your finger starts to [melt it], that circle grows, and grows, and grows—how many more people are in that position? How many more people are in that position? How many more members of Congress? How many people in government and other institutions? How many people in academia?
We know about the head of the bio program at Harvard, it was a year ago. You can show his picture because that’s real. That is real. This isn’t made-up. The media is going to talk about conspiracy nuts and all these things. This is real.
My life, for whatever reason, this is what I’ve chosen to do and I can live with myself. I can live with myself and live with my mistakes. I can live with my imperfections. I can live with myself and I’m fine with it. I’m fine with it. Why I’m part of this is because I think I understand, I think I see what’s happening, and I have an amazing family, and I have real core of what I call true friends. In the stuff that you go through, especially these last four years, and talk about cutting away friends and friendships, it’s amazing. Really, it’s amazing.
Now, Trump, there’s a video of him [with Charlie Rose in an interview] talked about if you lost everything, and Trump says, “I’d like to lose everything because really then I’d learn who my true friends were.” And I’ve learned what true friends are, not just who, because many people I’ve never met and they’ve come to my family as friends, and that’s a real positive.
In a collective sense of my family and I, we’ve turned that into a big, big positive for us. So to finish, as I described about [how] my life has been buddy breathing for the last four years, so now I’m back to the surface and I’m a good swimmer, so I think that I’ll be OK.
Mr. Jekielek: I think you were talking about the head of nanotechnology at Harvard earlier, right?
Gen. Flynn: Yes.
Jan Jekielek: There’s so many things I want to talk to you about. I think we’ll have to make this a “Part One.” This whole idea, frankly, that there’s probably people out there that are willing to accept a decline of America, within America, and of course, outside, we know they’re planning.
Gen. Flynn: It’s not a decline, Jan. It’s not a decline. It’s not subtle. It is a shift in the direction of our country. It is a fundamental change in America. It’s a fundamental shift. That’s what some want to do, and because there’s an awful lot that the richness of America can provide to people who would otherwise not have the best interests in mind, and you have the interests of other things.
I’d say one other thing because you just reminded me, and this is in the United Kingdom. So what they’re finding—and it’s an article, it’s a news, breaking news though. I look at it knowing what I know, and it talks about Chinese operatives essentially working in British embassies and consulates because they get British citizenship, they get hired.
The world of spying is not fun and games. It’s real. It exists. And frankly, the other side, and there’s sort of a lot of other side, they don’t care if they get caught. They don’t care. Their moral fabric is different than our moral fabric, and how they operate, how they think. Like I said, the other side, it’s like you’re looking at a lineup of nations, and in some cases, non-nation-state actors too.
Mr. Jekielek: The database that you’re describing, that this reporting out of the UK is about. We’ve started looking at this database, there’s descriptions not just in places like consulates and embassies, but also in corporations, on Chinese Communist Party cells being developed in these places, certainly academics. We’ll absolutely be looking into that. General Flynn, I really look forward to the Part Two, where we’ll have to deep dive into some of the many incredible things you brought up today.
Gen. Flynn: Great. Thank you very much.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.