President Donald Trump said immunity should be offered to former national security adviser Michael Flynn in exchange for his congressional testimony in to Russian interference in the US election, an inquiry both men dismissed as a “witch hunt”.
Mr Flynn’s lawyer on Thursday said the former general had offered to testify in the House and Senate intelligence committees’ hearings on Russia, only if he had reasonable assurances that he would not be targeted for prosecution.
“General Flynn certainly has a story to tell and he very much wants to tell it should circumstances permit,” his lawyer Robert Kelner said in a statement.
But he added: “No reasonable person, who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicised, witch-hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution.”
On Friday morning, Mr Trump backed his sacked former adviser on Twitter: “Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!”
Mr Flynn was fired from the White House less than a month into the job after it emerged that he had made false comments about communications with the Russian ambassador that had taken place before Mr Trump took office, misleading the vice-president, Mike Pence, in the process.
Mr Kelner did not offer details about the circumstances under which Mr Flynn might be testifying, but he suggested his client’s comments would be useful for Senate and House investigators.
The move by Mr Flynn came as the New York Times reported that two senior administration officials helped provide intelligence to Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee looking into the role of Vladimir Putin’s regime in the 2016 election.
Mr Nunes has been facing calls from Democrats and some Republicans to step down from his position after he said he had received information from undisclosed sources that the US president or his closest associates may have been “incidentally” swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.
It emerged later that he had received the intelligence material during a late night visit to the White House grounds, later briefing Mr Trump on what he had been told. He described his sources as whistleblowers trying to expose wrongdoing at great risk to themselves.
Democrats have since demanded an independent inquiry to replace the House investigation, saying Mr Nunes had used the information to back Mr Trump’s unsupported claim that he had been wiretapped by his predecessor Barack Obama.
The New York Times cited several current US officials as stating that Ezra Cohen-Watnick, senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer in the NSC, helped provide information to Mr Nunes.
Mr Cohen-Watnick served on the Trump transition team and was originally brought to the White House by Mr Flynn. Mr Ellis was also previously legal adviser to Mr Nunes’s committee.
The Washington Post also reported sources saying Mr Cohen-Watnick and Mr Ellis were involved in helping to prepare material for Mr Nunes. It added that after assembling reports that showed that Trump campaign officials were mentioned or inadvertently monitored by US spy agencies targeting foreign individuals, Mr Cohen took the matter to the top lawyer for the NSC, John Eisenberg.
The Washington Post added Mr Cohen-Watnick survived a recent attempt to oust him from his White House job by appealing to Trump advisers Jared Kushner and Stephen K. Bannon, the officials said.
Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, on Thursday refused to confirm or deny the New York Times report, saying “the obsession with who talked to whom and when is not the answer”.
There is no indication yet that either Congress or the Senate will agree to Mr Flynn’s request for immunity.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr Flynn, through his lawyer, had made the immunity offer to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Congress, but that both parties were unwilling to agree to the deal until they were further along in their investigations and had a better sense of what information Mr Flynn might be offering.
Meanwhile, Mr Putin again dismissed the allegations his government interfered in the US election, telling the Arctic forum on Thursday that the suggestions were “nonsense” and “irresponsible”.
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