- Reuters/Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he hardly spoke to former national security adviser Michael Flynn during a 2015 dinner in Moscow.
The dinner – where the two men were seated next to each other – celebrated Russian state media outlet Russia Today (RT).
“I didn’t even really talk to him,” Putin told NBC News’ Megyn Kelly during an interview that will air Sunday at 7 p.m. EST.
Putin explained that although he sat next to Flynn at the dinner, the two had limited contact. “I made my speech. Then we talked about some other stuff. And I got up and left,” Putin said.
He added: “And then afterwards I was told, ‘You know there was an American gentleman. He was involved in some things. He used to be in the security services’ … that’s it. I didn’t even really talk to him”
“That’s the extent of my acquaintance with Mr. Flynn.”
The US intelligence community found that Putin ordered an organized campaign to hack the US election and disseminate fake news intended to swing the election in Trump’s favor. Putin has denied the findings, and Trump has also questioned the validity of the intelligence community’s conclusions.
Flynn is currently the focus of two congressional investigations and an FBI probe into the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia, as well as any efforts to collude with the Kremlin and hand Donald Trump the presidency during the 2016 election.
Flynn was forced to resign from his position as national security adviser when The Washington Post reported in February that he had discussed US sanctions on Russia with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition period, and then misled Vice President Mike Pence about his conversation.
Flynn’s resignation came days after the Post’s report was published, but it was later revealed that the White House had already been aware of Flynn’s actions – former acting attorney general Sally Yates had warned the Trump administration in late January that Flynn was susceptible to Russian blackmail, but Flynn did not resign until 18 days later, following the Post’s report.
In addition to his ties to Russia, Flynn is also under another FBI investigation for failing to disclose that he had worked as a paid lobbyist for Turkey. Flynn reportedly informed the Trump transition team in early January of the investigation into his Turkey ties, which means the administration was aware of Flynn’s vulnerabilities before Trump took office.
Flynn’s background prompted so many questions, in fact, that former president Barack Obama warned newly-elected Trump in 2016 not to hire Flynn as national security adviser.
Trump’s own relationship with Flynn has also attracted scrutiny, particularly after it was reported that Trump asked former FBI director James Comey to drop the FBI’s investigation into Flynn’s Russia ties during a February Oval Office meeting that took place the day after Flynn resigned.
“He’s a good guy,” Trump told Comey, according to a memo Comey wrote shortly after the meeting. “I hope you can let this go.” Though the meeting reportedly took place in February, news of it didn’t emerge until later in May, after Trump abruptly fired Comey.
As the Trump-Russia controversy continued gaining steam in March and Flynn began emerging as a central focus, his lawyer, Robert Kelner, asked for immunity for Flynn in exchange for his testimony on Russian election interference. Flynn previously said during an interview in 2016 that “when you are given immunity, that means you probably committed a crime.”
Flynn has so far not been granted immunity in exchange for his testimony, and he has invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined a Senate Intelligence Committee subpoena. He was also recently subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee, as was his lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group. He has not yet responded to the subpoenas.