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Senate Intelligence Committee Denies Immunity To Michael Flynn In Russia Probe

01/04/2017 3:48 AM AEDT | Updated 01/04/2017 6:25 AM AEDT

WASHINGTON ― Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, once one of President Donald Trump’s strongest supporters and then his national security adviser, is scrambling to save himself from prosecution in exchange for telling Congress what he knows about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 elections. And to do so, he has hired a lawyer who has been a vocal opponent of Trump.

“General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,” Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, said in a statement on Thursday evening.

Trump fired Flynn in February, after he admitted he had indeed had a conversation in December with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak ― despite previously denying he’d had any contact with Russian officials before Trump took office.

Flynn told the FBI and congressional officials that he would be willing to testify in their investigations into Russia’s involvement in the elections if he could receive immunity from prosecution, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

NBC reported Friday that the Senate Intelligence Committee turned down Flynn’s request for immunity, telling Kelner it was “wildly preliminary” and “not on the table” at this time. The Huffington Post confirmed the report with a Senate staffer. The committee declined to comment.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, put out a statement Friday saying his panel was still considering the offer. 

“[W]e should first acknowledge what a grave and momentous step it is for a former National Security Advisor to the President of the United States to ask for immunity from prosecution,” he said. “We will be discussing the matter with our counterparts on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Department of Justice. While Mr. Flynn’s testimony is of great interest to our committee, we are also deeply mindful of the interests of the Department of Justice in the matter.”

Kelner tried to tamp down speculation that Flynn might have done something that opens him up to charges, saying in his statement, “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’s hiring of Kelner is notable. Kelner was an outspoken opponent of Trump during the campaign, questioning his campaign’s ties to Russia, among other matters. 

Trump tweeted Friday morning that he supports Flynn asking for immunity, also calling the investigation a “witch hunt.” 

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) took issue with the president’s tweet, telling Fox News that he doesn’t understand why Flynn would want immunity.

“No, I don’t think it’s a witch hunt,” Chaffetz said. “Look, it’s very mysterious to me, though, why all of a sudden General Flynn is suddenly out there saying he wants immunity. A, I don’t think Congress should give him immunity. If there’s an open investigation by the FBI, that should not happen. I also don’t believe ... the president should be weighing in on this. They’re the ones that actually would prosecute something.”

In the past, Trump has been more critical of immunity, telling supporters, “If you’re not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for?” 

The White House has encouraged the congressional investigations, saying they should also investigate Trump’s baseless claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. Even though FBI Director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee there is no evidence to support Trump’s wiretapping allegation, chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) later said he saw evidence that Trump transition officials had been caught inadvertently in surveillance operations targeting suspected foreign spies.

Nunes received this information ― which he has not shared with his fellow committee members ― on White House grounds, and reports reveal that White House officials provided him with the materials.

With growing accusations that Nunes is openly colluding with the White House on the investigation, attention has shifted to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which started its hearings this week and has promised to be bipartisan.

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