- REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has offered to testify before the House and Senate intelligence committees in exchange for immunity, as The Wall Street Journal first reported Thursday.
The committees are investigating Russia’s interference in last year’s US election, and both have asked to interview members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle who may have relevant information about whether any collusion occurred between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Flynn’s potential ties to Russia have been of particular interest to the committees because of his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, that eventually led to his ouster.
Flynn’s lawyer released a statement saying “discussions between counsel for General Flynn and the House and Senate intelligence committees” about possible immunity had been ongoing, but some congressional officials have already disputed that claim.
The House Intelligence Committee “had a preliminary conversation with Michael Flynn’s lawyer about arranging for Flynn to speak to the committee,” Jack Langer, a spokesman for the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, said in a statement. “The discussions did not include immunity or other possible conditions for his appearance.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee has apparently already turned down Flynn’s request: Immunity is “not on the table” at the moment, a senior congressional official told NBC.
Perhaps more significant, Flynn has also made his offer to the Department of Justice, The Journal and NBC have reported. Ultimately, analysts have said, only the DOJ – which oversees the FBI – would be able to give Flynn real immunity should it determine that his information is both valuable and inaccessible by other means or sources.
“Keep in mind Congress usually offers ‘use immunity’ (to not use statement) and not immunity from prosecution,” Susan Hennessey, a former National Security Agency lawyer, wrote on Twitter.
Flynn’s push for immunity has suggested to some that he thinks he might have information relevant to the broader investigation, which could take the focus off himself.
Juliette Kayyem, a CNN national-security analyst who lectures at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said that while “we don’t know what Flynn offered,” his offer alone was “significant” and made him the first in Trump’s “inner circle to turn his back on them.”
The House committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, said in a statement Friday that while the committee would discuss the matter with its Senate counterpart, it remained “deeply mindful of the interests of the Department of Justice.”
‘The bureau does nobody any favors’
So far, Flynn’s public confirmation that he’s seeking immunity suggests that the FBI has successfully backed him into a corner, even without the “story” his lawyer has said Flynn is eager to tell.
Glenn Carle, a former CIA operative who worked closely with the FBI during his time as an intelligence officer, said the “bureau does nobody any favors.”
“It’s conceivable that Flynn is innocent,” Carle said. “But the FBI is extremely powerful, and has sources everywhere. So assuming Flynn is asking for immunity because he thinks he did something wrong, and wants to save his own ass, the bureau will probably say, ‘Thanks, but no – why should we do you a favor if we don’t even need your testimony?'”
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Alex Whiting, a Harvard Law School professor, wrote on Thursday that Flynn’s “ploy feels desperate” and indicated that he “may not have much to offer.”
“Flynn’s lawyer may have concluded that at a minimum the public offer would help change the atmospherics around his client, which could help him at a future stage,” Whiting wrote.
But “the very fact that Flynn’s lawyer is making a play for immunity at this stage suggests that he has some fear that his client faces real criminal exposure,” he added.
‘When the wheels of a bureaucracy start to turn, they will grind up everybody’
Questions about whether Flynn ran afoul of the law by accepting payments from foreign governments, while he still had US security clearance, have been piling up in recent weeks as reports continue to surface about his work for both Russia and Turkey – the extent of which, in some cases, he failed to immediately disclose to the DOJ.
Flynn’s lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group, lobbied on behalf of a Turkish businessman with ties to the Turkish government throughout the latter half of 2016. But Flynn registered as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice only late last month.
Flynn was also paid $33,000 to speak at a gala in Moscow honoring Russia’s state-sponsored news agency, Russia Today, in December 2015. Top Democratic lawmakers have requested that the Defense Department review whether that speaking engagement violated the emoluments clause of the US Constitution. Flynn sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the gala dinner.
- Reuters/Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin
Earlier that year, Russia’s top cybersecurity company, Kaspersky, and the Russian charter cargo airline Volga-Dnepr Airlines paid him nearly $23,000 combined for different speaking engagements.
His questionable ties to Russia were not limited to the period after his departure from the agency. The Guardian reported on Friday morning that the FBI and the CIA were examining his contact in 2014 with a Russian-British national, Svetlana Lokhova, who “has claimed to have unique access” to the GRU, Russia’s military spy agency.
Flynn did not disclose his initial conversation with her, or the email exchanges that followed, to the US government, according to The Guardian.
Flynn’s spokesman, Price Floyd, called the story “false” in a statement and said Flynn’s contact with Lokhova was “incidental.”
But the Justice Department has clearly taken notice. A joint investigation among the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the Treasury Department into Flynn’s communications with Kislyak are what ultimately led to his ouster. And the DOJ’s former No. 2 – Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates – reportedly warned the White House in January that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
“The wheels of bureaucracy have clearly started to turn,” said Carle, the former CIA officer. “And when they do, they tend to grind up anyone in their path.”