Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, at the center of multiple probes into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, seeks sanctuary from the news coverage in the beach town where he grew up surfing and skateboarding, one of nine siblings crammed into a 1,200-square foot house.
He’s spent recent weeks in Middletown surfing and figuring out his path forward. Friends and family members say the man they know — the student body president who rose from the Army ROTC to the rank of lieutenant general — isn’t the same man they see portrayed in news reports.
“Have you seen that in the news? They talk about Mike as a traitor? The thought of that is absolutely insane to me,” said older brother Jack.
Forced from government service into retirement in 2014 by the Obama administration, Flynn went on to set up a company that accepted speaking fees from Russian entities and he later did consulting work for a Turkish-owned business. He joined the Trump campaign and then the administration but the Trump White House ousted him after saying he mischaracterized conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. A wide range of his actions — including foreign contracts and payments, and whether he lied to officials — are under scrutiny by investigators.
Thomas A. Heaney Jr., a retired Army colonel, said the friend he has known since they were 9 years old has begun work again as a consultant after shutting down his old firm. Heaney has seen him several times this summer, most recently at Fourth of July parties.
“He knows that most of the allegations in terms of the way they were presented were sensationalized and are not true,” Heaney said. “He’s got his head up. He knows he’s a good servant. He’s a patriot and he didn’t deserve to be treated the way he’s being treated, but he’s not letting that overwhelm him.”
Middletown could even become his permanent base, Heaney said. Flynn and his wife, Lori, his high school sweetheart, have deep family ties here.
Michael Flynn is the sixth child of Helen and Charlie Flynn. His father retired as a master sergeant after a 20-year career with the U.S. Army and started a banking career in Newport, an island community with a strong military presence and reputation as a rich people’s playground. The family packed into the tiny seaside cottage once owned by Michael’s grandmother in blue-collar Middletown.
Flynn writes in his book, “The Field of Fight,” of the “never-ending revolving search to nab one of a few fold-up cots or a bunk bed that was open.”
Allen Corcoran grew up best friends with Flynn’s youngest brother, Charlie, now an Army major general. Corcoran recalled a sleepover at the Flynns. He fell asleep in a bed and woke up on a couch. An older Flynn wanted the bed and moved him.
Helen Flynn was deeply involved in Democratic politics, from local to gubernatorial campaigns, even the presidential campaign of George McGovern. Michael’s younger brother Joe said family members were constantly swapping political opinions and talking about what was happening in the world.
“We were encouraged to speak our mind,” Joe Flynn said.
Growing up so close to the ocean, the Flynns became immersed in surfing. The cottage had a clear view of the surf break below Newport’s famous Gilded Age mansion, The Breakers, and surfers would call the Flynn house before heading over.
“My mother would give them the surf check,” Joe Flynn said.
Michael was known for his boldness.
“He would surf tough spots in the middle of December. He’d go out in circumstances where others wouldn’t do it,” Corcoran said.
At age 13, he made the local newspaper when he saved two toddlers from the path of a runaway car.
There were some hard times, too. Michael was in elementary school when his oldest sister, Lennie, died following a car crash.
Another turning point came as a teenager, when Michael ran into trouble that landed him in a night of juvenile detention and a year of probation. In his book, Flynn wrote that his “misguided mindset” led to his arrest. Joe Flynn said the arrest helped his older brother turn things around.
After his work on the Trump campaign, Flynn had planned to return to the private sector, his brothers said. Instead, President Donald Trump asked him to be national security adviser.
“I know for sure that he at first said no,” Jack Flynn said. “And he said to me ‘It’s a tough one to say no to when you’re pressed. When you’ve gone that far. So I said OK.'”
These days, Michael is in “recuperation mode,” Joe said. The same week that former FBI Director James Comey testified at the Senate Intelligence Committee, Michael went surfing with his sister at a beach near the house he owns here, Joe said.
His family and friends say they’re confident he’ll be exonerated, and that he feels plenty of support in Middletown.
“People here,” Heaney said, “they know the mettle of Mike Flynn.”
McDermott reported from Providence, Rhode Island.