By Steven T. Dennis, Chris Strohm and Billy House Bloomberg
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser would have to go through several steps before lawmakers would consider offering immunity in exchange for his testimony.
Rep. Adam Schiff of Washington said that he would discuss Mike Flynn’s offer with the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Justice Department, and that he would need to receive details about what Flynn would say.
“As with any investigation — and particularly one that grows in severity and magnitude by the day — there is still much work and many more witnesses and documents to obtain before any immunity request from any witness can be considered,” Schiff said Friday in a statement.
Trump encouraged Flynn to seek immunity from prosecution Friday morning, calling investigations into alleged contacts between the Trump administration and the Russian government a political “witch hunt.”
“Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!” Trump wrote in a Twitter post, using shorthand for Democrats.
While it’s unclear if Trump was coordinating with his former adviser, Flynn has told investigators that he’s willing to be interviewed in return for immunity from prosecution.
“General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,” Robert Kelner, a lawyer for Flynn, said in a statement late Thursday. “We will not comment right now on the details of discussions between counsel for General Flynn and the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, other than to confirm that those discussions have taken place.”
Jack Langer, a spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee, said that the panel “had a preliminary conversation with Michael Flynn’s lawyer about arranging for Flynn to speak to the committee. The discussions did not include immunity or other possible conditions for his appearance.”
Flynn’s lawyer suggested immunity is justified because his client is “the target of unsubstantiated public demands by Members of Congress and other political critics that he be criminally investigated.” Kelner, a partner at Covington and Burling LLP in Washington, said: “No reasonable person, who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized, witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution.”
Flynn, a retired lieutenant general and Rhode Island native, was forced out of the Trump administration after it was revealed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. after Trump’s victory.
FBI Director James Comey has told Congress that the bureau’s probe into Russian hacking of last year’s presidential election “includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
While Trump continued to scoff at concerns over the investigations into Russian hacking, one of his cabinet members said it’s a real concern for the U.S. and allies.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said Friday at a London news conference with his U.K. counterpart that Russia “is choosing to be a strategic competitor.” Its violations of international law are a matter of record, including its Crimea annexation and “mucking around” in other countries’ elections, he said.
The House and Senate Intelligence committees are also investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, including any contacts between Trump associates and Russia.
Flynn, who ran the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama, was one of Trump’s closest advisers during the campaign and was one of the more vocal critics of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, even leading chants of “lock her up” during his Republican National Convention speech regarding her use of a private email server.
“I mean, five people around her have had, have been given immunity,” Flynn said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” in September. “When you are given immunity, that means that you have probably committed a crime.”
Flynn briefly held one of the most sensitive jobs in the Trump administration as national security adviser, which carries the highest-level security clearance. He has been at the top of the list for Democrats and others investigating the possible Russia connections.
In the weeks after Flynn left the administration, new details emerged about his business ties with Turkey’s government and Russian entities.
Flynn retroactively registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department for work that his firm, Flynn Intel Group, did for a Dutch consulting company, Inovo BV, which has ties to President Recep Erdogan of Turkey. Flynn’s filing showed that his company received $530,000 from Inovo between Sept. 9 and Nov. 14.
Kelner wrote in a letter accompanying the filing that Flynn had previously registered with Congress under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, but made the new filing because the work could have been interpreted as benefiting the government of Turkey. Lobbying on behalf of a foreign government requires registration with the Justice Department.