WASHINGTON (AP) – Congressional investigators on Friday rebuffed former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s offer of cooperation in exchange for immunity, saying it’s too early in their probe of his Russia connections to discuss a deal.
Flynn’s attorney said there were talks about immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony with the congressional committees conducting investigations into Russia’s meddling with the 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, Rep. Adam Schiff, of California, said the committee would be discussing the issue with the Senate intelligence committee and the Justice Department. He said that Flynn has even suggested immunity is a significant development.
“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.
“General 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!”
Flynn’s ties to Russia have been scrutinized by the FBI and are under investigation by the House and Senate intelligence committees. Both committees are looking into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential 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 coordination with Trump associates.
The spokesman for Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman 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,” Nunes’ spokesman, Jack Langer, said Friday. “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.
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 wants 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 intelligence committee had asked to interview 20 people as part of the probe.
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.
“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,” Kelner said.
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. The Turkish businessman who hired Flynn, Ekim Alptekin, has told the AP that Flynn’s firm registered under pressure from the Justice Department.