Too early to consider immunity for Michael Flynn: investigators
Trump thinks the former national security adviser should 'go out and tell his story'
U.S. congressional investigators on Friday rebuffed former national security adviser Michael Flynn's offer of co-operation in exchange for immunity from prosecution, saying it's too early in their probe of Russia connections to discuss a deal.
Flynn's attorney said talks have taken place about immunity in exchange for testimony with the congressional committees conducting investigations into Russia's meddling with the 2016 presidential election.
A congressional aide confirmed that preliminary discussions with the Senate intelligence committee involved immunity but that it was too early in the investigation to set terms. The aide was not authorized to discuss private conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Representative Adam Schiff, of California, said committee leaders would be discussing the issue with their Senate counterparts and the Justice Department.
"We should first acknowledge what a grave and momentous step it is for a former national security adviser to the president of the United States to ask for immunity from prosecution," Schiff said in a statement Friday.
Flynn's attorney, Robert Kelner, said no "reasonable person" with legal counsel would answer questions without assurances that he would not be prosecuted, given calls from some members of Congress that the retired lieutenant-general should face criminal charges.
"Gen. Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit," Kelner said Thursday.
Trump weighed in Friday, tweeting that Flynn "should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!"
Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!—@realDonaldTrump
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the president wants Flynn to testify in front of the committees.
"He thinks he should go out and tell his story," Spicer said Friday.
Spicer also said the White House isn't worried about what Flynn's testimony could reveal.
Senator Angus King, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said it was too soon to discuss immunity for Flynn. He also criticized Trump's remarks.
"This is not a witch hunt," King, an independent, told CNN. "This is an effort to get to the truth of some very important questions. There is no doubt whatsoever that the Russians were behind an effort to interfere in our elections. To continue to deny that — it just flies in the face of all of the reality."
Investigation began in July
Flynn's ties to Russia have been scrutinized by the FBI and are under investigation by the congressional committees. Both panels are looking into Russia's meddling in the election and any ties between Trump associates and the Kremlin.
Since July, the FBI has been conducting a counterintelligence investigation into Russia's interference in the election and possible co-ordination with Trump associates.
A spokesperson for Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chair of the House intelligence committee, said there was never an immunity deal offered to Flynn.
The committee "had a preliminary conversation with Michael Flynn's lawyer about arranging for Flynn to speak to the committee," Jack Langer said. "The discussions did not include immunity or other possible conditions for his appearance."
Schiff, who has called for Nunes' recusal from the investigation because of his close ties to the White House, said the committee is interested in Flynn's testimony, but lawmakers are also "mindful" of the Justice Department's interests.
Friday evening, Schiff said intelligence reports he viewed at the White House on Friday were "precisely the same" documents seen by Nunes last week and the information should be shared with the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Schiff was invited to view the documents on Thursday.
Nunes sparked controversy last week when he said he had seen documents at the White House that indicated Trump and associates may have been caught in incidental intelligence collection before the inauguration.
Nunes shared what he had learned with Trump and held a news conference but did not give the information to the rest of the committee.
Congress has the authority to grant someone immunity, but doing so could jeopardize the Justice Department's ability to use that testimony as the basis for any criminal case it might want to bring.
"When the time comes to consider requests for immunity from any witness, we will of course require a detailed proffer of any intended testimony," Schiff said.
Kelner released a statement late Thursday after the Wall Street Journal first reported that Flynn's negotiations with the committee included discussions of immunity. The lawyer described the talks as ongoing and said he would not comment on the details.
Four other Trump associates have come forward in recent weeks, saying they would talk to the committees. As of Wednesday, the Senate panel had asked to interview 20 people.
In his statement, Kelner said the political climate in which Flynn is facing "claims of treason and vicious innuendo" is factoring into his negotiations with the committees.
In September, Flynn weighed in on the implications of immunity on NBC's Meet the Press, criticizing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her associates in the FBI's investigation into her use of a private email server.
"When you are given immunity, that means that you have probably committed a crime," Flynn said during the interview.
Flynn was fired from his job as Trump's first national security adviser after it was disclosed that he misled Vice-President Mike Pence about a conversation he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the transition.
In the weeks after he resigned, Flynn and his business registered with the Justice Department as foreign agents for $530,000 worth of lobbying work that could have benefited the Turkish government.
The lobbying occurred while Flynn was a top Trump campaign adviser.
With files from Reuters