Report: Trump aides knew Flynn was under investigation prior to inauguration

Last Updated May 18, 2017 8:08 PM EDT

Embattled former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn previously told President Trump's transition team weeks before his inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the presidential campaign, according to a new report by the New York Times.

The Times' reporting, which cited two people familiar with the case, says that despite Flynn's Jan. 4 disclosure about the investigation to White House counsel Donald McGahn, Mr. Trump brought Flynn onto his team.

The report also says that people close to Flynn say he believed that when the warning to Mr. Trump did little to dissuade him from appointing him as national security adviser, the Justice Department then opened its investigation into his lobbying work. 

The White House denied the report in a statement.

"The New York Times story is flat wrong," the statement read. "Neither Michael Flynn nor his attorneys told Transition Counsel 'that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign.'"

CBS News Paula Reid notes, however, that in the grand scheme of DOJ investigations, failing to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), is not as high a priority as many perceive it to be.

Those under investigation receive a notice that prompts the individual to file the proper paperwork, and the Justice Department rarely prosecutes for a violation -- unless he or she is also charged with a much larger offense.

Flynn, though, has now come under scrutiny for a more diverse array of crimes, but FARA violations are low on the list of DOJ's investigations amid continuing probes into Russia's meddling into the 2016 election, according to Reid. 

The Trump team had previously been warned by former acting attorney general Sally Yates and then-President Obama about Flynn well before news of his ties to Russia became public.

Yates, who testified before lawmakers, told a Senate panel she warned the White House that Flynn "essentially could be blackmailed" because he apparently had lied to his bosses about his contacts with Russia's ambassador.

The statements from Yates offered by far the most detailed account of the chain of events that led to Flynn's ouster as national security adviser in the first weeks of the Trump administration.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced on Wednesday that the Justice Department has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to be special counsel in the investigation. 

On Friday morning, the president complained over Twitter that the investigation is "the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history," and added that there was no special counsel to investigate the Clinton campaign or Obama administration.

CBS News' Margaret Brennan contributed to this report

  • Emily Tillett

    Emily Tillett is a politics reporter and video editor for CBS News Digital