By Chad Day, Eileen Sullivan & Julie Pace
WASHINGTON — Congressional investigators on Friday rebuffed former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s offer of cooperation in exchange for immunity from prosecution, saying it’s too early in their probe of Russia connections to discuss a deal.
President Donald Trump tweeted that Flynn, his former adviser, should ask for immunity because he’s facing “a witch hunt.”
Flynn’s attorney said talks have taken place about immunity in order for him to testify. Intelligence committees in both the Senate and House are investigating Russia’s meddling in 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.
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!”
It was unclear from that tweet whether he was advising the Justice Department or the congressional panels to give his former adviser immunity. The president is not supposed to direct ongoing investigations.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump just wants Flynn to testify, and there are no concerns that Flynn could implicate the president in any wrong doing.
The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Rep. 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.
Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, said no “reasonable person” who has a lawyer 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.
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.
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 coordination with Trump associates.
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.
A spokesman for Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said the panel has not offered an immunity deal to Flynn.
The committee “had a preliminary conversation with Michael Flynn’s lawyer about arranging for Flynn to speak to the committee,” spokesman 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.
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.
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.
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.