Schiff Says Too Early to Debate Flynn Immunity for TestimonyBy , , and
Trump’s former national security aide made offer for interview
House and Senate Intelligence panels probing Russian influence
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.
Representative Adam Schiff of California said that he would discuss Mike Flynn’s offer with the Senate Intelligence Committee as well as members of the House panel and with the Justice Department. Any decision would require Flynn and his lawyer to provide details of what the retired lieutenant general is offering to say in his testimony.
“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.
With attention drawn back to Trump’s former adviser and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the White House sought to raise questions about whether former President Barack Obama’s administration engaged in what press secretary Sean Spicer said was “politically motivated” surveillance of Trump’s campaign and leaks of classified material.
As part of that, Schiff went to the White House Friday afternoon at the invitation of the administration to view intelligence intercepts that Trump’s aides have said suggest that government spy agencies improperly identified Trump’s campaign officials and associates in the course of routine foreign surveillance.
The invitation was extended amid a controversy House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes shifting explanations of how he was given access to the documents. The New York Times reported that two officials in Trump’s administration provided the material to Nunes. The California Republican didn’t inform Schiff or other members of the committee, but he held a news conference to detail what he saw before returning to the White House to talk about it with Trump.
Schiff and his staff director viewed the classified material on Friday and he said it should be shared with the full committee.
“Nothing I could see today warranted a departure from the normal review procedures,” he said in a statement. “The White House has yet to explain why senior White House staff apparently shared these materials with but one member of either committee, only for their contents to be briefed back to the White House.”
While at the White House, Schiff also met briefly with Trump, according to a spokesman for the congressman.
The president jumped into the debate over Flynn’s role in the investigation of contacts between Trump’s associates and the Russian government, calling it 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 didn’t 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 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.
U.S. 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.
Turkey and Russia
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.
The top Democrat and Republican on the House Oversight Committee are seeking documents related to Flynn’s security clearance applications and contacts and payments from Russian, Turkish and any other foreign sources including the Kremlin-backed media outlet RT, dating from Flynn’s 2014 retirement from the Defense Intelligence Agency to the present.
Democrats on the House committee last week released documents showing Flynn received more than $45,000 from RT for taking part in a December 2015 gala where he sat at President Vladimir Putin’s table.
Other documents showed that Flynn, who received $11,250 for a 2015 speaking engagement in Washington for Kaspersky Government Security Solutions, Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of a Russian cybersecurity firm; and an $11,250 payment from Volga-Dnepr Airlines.
Price Floyd, a spokesman for Flynn, said the retired lieutenant general “both informed and fully briefed” the Defense Intelligence Agency about his Russia trip beforehand and when he returned.
— With assistance by Toluse Olorunnipa, Robert Hutton, and Terrence Dopp