Former national security adviser Michael Flynn should seek immunity in exchange for his testimony, as he is reportedly doing, President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter Friday morning, saying his ex-aide should protect himself from a “witch hunt” by Democrats and the media over allegations of ties between the Russian government and Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Flynn, a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency who was an adviser to Trump’s campaign and the president’s first national security adviser, resigned from his West Wing post less than a month after Inauguration Day amid reports that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and others about the nature of conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
Late Thursday night, the Wall Street Journal reported that Flynn is seeking immunity from congressional and Justice Department investigators in exchange for his testimony. Flynn “certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,” Flynn’s lawyer said in a statement released Thursday.
“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 on Twitter. He often claims that talk of Russian interference in the election is a face-saving exercise from Democrats and the media caught flat-footed by his surprise victory.
But lawmakers following the issue disagreed, and a top Democrat called it a “grave and momentous step” for Flynn to seek immunity from prosecution. Flynn’s reported request amid ongoing probes of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election only intensifies speculation about his relationship with that country’s leaders.
No evidence has emerged to tie the president’s campaign to the Russian government, but the matter is under investigation by the FBI as well as the intelligence committees of both the House and the Senate.
At his Friday afternoon press briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters the president “believes that Mike Flynn should go testify” before investigators and “do what he has to do to get the story out.” Asked if White House was concerned about what Flynn would tell investigators, Spicer flatly responded “nope.”
Spicer would not say definitively whether the president believes Flynn should be granted immunity.
Flynn had some known ties to Russia. He delivered a paid speech in 2015 in Moscow at a gala for RT, the Russian media network that serves as a propaganda outlet for the Kremlin, where he was seated at a table with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But it was his conversations with the Russian ambassador that led to his ouster last month. The pair was revealed to have discussed easing sanctions put in place by the administration of former President Barack Obama, even though Flynn told Pence the subject did not come up.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said he would discuss Flynn’s request for immunity with his Senate counterparts and the Department of Justice. But he said in a statement that it was a “grave and momentous step” for a former national security adviser.
Schiff said earlier on Friday that Americans would learn why Flynn wanted immunity when lawmakers hear from Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general who first informed the White House about the topic of Flynn’s talks with the Russian ambassador. Yates was scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee this week, but the hearing was canceled.
An offer of immunity from one of the Capitol Hill investigations could create severe complications should the Justice Department seek to prosecute Flynn. And an offer would almost certainly come only after Flynn engages in what’s called a proffer, an informal offer of testimony that tells investigators what he might have to offer but is not generally admissible in legal proceedings.
Schiff said he would insist on such a step, which is common in criminal justice proceedings but rarer in Congressional investigations, before any immunity is granted.
In the meantime, Trump’s and Flynn’s own words during the presidential campaign have come back to haunt them. In a late September appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Flynn answered a question about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s email scandal by telling host Chuck Todd that “when you are given immunity, that means that you have probably committed a crime.”
Trump has made similar remarks. “If you’re not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for?” he asked a crowd at a Florida campaign rally last September.
But while Trump appears to have changed his tune on requesting immunity, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee, told Fox News on Friday that Flynn’s request “doesn’t look good.” He disputed the president’s characterization of the investigations as a “witch hunt” and said Flynn should not receive immunity.
“I don’t think Donald Trump should be weighing in on this at this point,” he said. “But I don’t think there should be given immunity, either. I mean, immunity from what? We don’t know what that is.”