Martin Friedman, the head of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, died last May at the age of 90. At the time, I requested Friedman’s FBI file through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and that 93-page file was delivered to me yesterday. While there’s nothing scandalous in it, reading the file made me think about something that’s currently in the news. Namely, just how screwed Michael Flynn is.
Normally after getting a file like Friedman’s, I wouldn’t consider it newsworthy. Sometimes people have random, weird things in their file, as I recently discovered with military historian Robert Dorr. But after looking through Friedman’s mundane file I couldn’t help but think about both former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and current top White House advisor Jared Kushner—two high-profile men who lied to investigators on their security disclosure forms.
The FBI opened a file on Friedman in 1978 as part of a routine investigation into his fitness for a potential presidential appointment by Jimmy Carter. As far as I can tell, he was never appointed for a position by the president, but he did design some art installations for Vice President Walter Mondale for the VP’s mansion. That sounds like a shitty runner’s up prize, but apparently Friedman and Mondale were friends.
What did a standard background investigation by the FBI into Friedman entail? The FBI interviewed 27 different people about Friedman, looked at his military history, verified his educational history, verified his various places of employment, and just generally snooped into every corner of his life. And the FBI produced 93 pages of reports on it.
Again, Friedman wasn’t looking to be some kind of top level national security official or anything. This was just a routine investigation for someone who might be appointed to some kind of national arts position.
So why did all of this remind me of Michael Flynn, the disgraced National Security Advisor to President Trump who spent just 24 days in his position (the shortest in history) before being forced out? Well, it has since been revealed that Flynn lied on disclosure forms, failing to declare payments from foreign governments like Russia and Turkey. And if agencies like the FBI did their job, they knew about all this and more.
“Personally I see no evidence or no data to support the notion that General Flynn complied with the law,” House Oversight Committee Jason Chaffetz told reporters yesterday.
And Flynn wasn’t the only one who lied. It was revealed on April 6, 2017 that Jared Kushner omitted meetings with top Russian officials on his own security disclosure forms. Again, agencies like the FBI have to know about this stuff. That’s their job. More than one person has called for Kushner to lose his security clearance over the incident.
It’s not clear if any charges will be filed against Flynn, nor whether Kushner could get the boot. But these old forms are nothing compared to the investigation that occurs when you want a job with the federal government that needs security clearance.
With Trump plucking some of the most unsavory characters on the planet to fill his government, it’s going to be an interesting four years, to say the least. Flynn won’t be the last to fall, if history is any indication.
If you’re at all interested, you can read Friedman’s entire FBI file on Scribd. It’s super boring.