The family of the former general, who lasted less than a month in the Trump administration and subsequently has become a major figure among followers of the QAnon conspiracy, reportedly kept hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fund, according to the lawsuit that was made public on Thursday.
Mr Flynn took part in a sworn deposition in the case, which surrounds allegations made by his wife and sister-in-law that the network defamed them when it connected them to the QAnon conspiracy theory, according to legal filings. Mr Flynn’s deposition is sealed.
CNN asked a Florida federal judge in a filing on Thursday to dismiss the lawsuit before it goes to trial. The filing claims that the family was connected to the conspiracy theory and that they “exploited” Mr Flynn’s connection to the movement behind it as they supposedly fundraised from its backers.
Lori and Valerie Flynn’s argument in a lawsuit filed early last year is based on a 2021 CNN report in which a two-second clip of Mr Flynn appearing to take a QAnon oath at a Fourth of July barbecue. The CNN screenshot in the lawsuit states that the clip appeared on Mr Flynn’s Twitter account in July 2020. The video shows Mr Flynn’s family at his sides, also holding up their right hands. They have each asked for $100m in damages.
The CNN report mostly focuses not on the Flynn family, but on a QAnon conference with a chyron stating, “CNN Goes Inside a Gathering of QAnon Followers”.
Lori and Valeri Flynn argue that they were defamed when they were included in the CNN report, stating that they’re not followers of the conspiracy theory.
Mr Flynn’s brother Jack and sister-in-law Leslie have also sued CNN in connection to the QAnon report, Semafor notes. The case is pending in a New York federal court.
Mr Flynn resigned from the Trump administration after 22 days following reports that he misled White House officials regarding contact he had with the Russian Ambassador to the US at the time – Sergey Kislyak.
After playing a major role in the story surrounding former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by former President Donald Trump, and the Russia probe led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, also a former FBI director, Mr Flynn pled guilty to lying to the agency about the conversations with Mr Kislyak, who left the post eight months into the Trump administration in August 2017.
The Justice Department moved to dismiss the case several years later, ahead of Mr Flynn being sentenced and Mr Trump pardoning him in 2020. Mr Flynn has also shared conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and Covid-19.
In 2020, the Flynn family took part in the so-called #TakeTheOath movement – supporters were encouraged to recite the federal oath of office and add the QAnon-connected slogan “Where We Go One, We Go All”, according to the legal filing. Mr Flynn tweeted a video of himself and his family taking the oath at the Fourth of July barbecue in 2020.
CNN states that its report never names Lori and Valeri Flynn and notes Mr Flynn’s connection to the movement only briefly. The CNN filing argues that his family remained connected to the movement because they “relentlessly fundraised … from the QAnon community” for the defence fund between 2018 and 2021.
The CNN motion states that Mr Flynn’s sister Barbara Flynn, who served as the trustee of the fund, testified that she “didn’t mind taking money from people who [used QAnon] hashtags” as long as they were “directing [people] to the legal defense fund,” Semafor notes.
The fund was used to pay for Mr Flynn’s legal team, but Ms Flynn testified that after that, she was paid around $265,000 and that her brother received “whatever was [left over] in the account” – a sum which she said was between a quarter of a million and a million dollars.
CNN argues that the prosecution of Mr Flynn and the pardon from Mr Trump “galvanized support from QAnon followers, who acted like ‘groupies’”.
The CNN motion asks “whether the purpose of this lawsuit is to really vindicate an emotional harm or simply to ‘get CNN’”.
A lawsuit from Valerie Flynn, which was filed separately but was later merged with the lawsuit filed by Lori Flynn, claims that CNN shared the notion that Valerie pledged allegiance to QAnon and that it connected the Flynns to a “violent extremist group”.
“In early February 2021, this was a very damaging accusation. It was like calling someone a ‘communist’ in the 1950s or a Nazi sympathizer in the 1940s,” the lawsuit argues.
The Independent has reached out to lawyers for the Flynn family and the CNN legal team for comment. CNN Communications declined to comment.