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President Backs Flynn on Request For Immunity -- WSJ

1 Apr 2017 6:32 am
By Byron Tau and Carol E. Lee 

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump threw his support behind former national security adviser Michael Flynn on Friday, backing his request for immunity from prosecution and describing the investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as a "witch hunt."

But Mr. Flynn's request for immunity faces roadblocks. The Senate intelligence committee has decided not to accept his offer to testify at this time, according to a person familiar with the matter. And the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said it was premature to make a decision on immunity.

On Twitter, Mr. Trump voiced his support for the effort by Mr. Flynn -- who briefly served as the top national security official in the White House before being forced to resign -- to secure immunity in exchange for his testimony before Congress and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But the president's top spokesman didn't give a direct answer when asked whether Congress and the FBI should grant Mr. Flynn immunity.

Mr. Trump's criticism of the investigations by lawmakers and federal agencies came as the White House also stepped up its efforts to steer the congressional probe toward what press secretary Sean Spicer said Friday were "serious concerns on whether or not there was an organized and widespread effort by the Obama administration to use and leak highly sensitive intelligence information for political purposes."

A representative for former President Barack Obama declined to comment.

The congressional committees and the FBI are delving into allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that the Russian government hacked Democratic political organizations and individuals and leaked emails in an attempt to favor Mr. Trump, a Republican, in last year's presidential election. Federal and congressional investigations also are probing whether associates of Mr. Trump colluded with Russian officials in their effort to influence the election.

Russia has denied meddling in the election. Mr. Trump and his aides have denied any collusion with Russia.

Typically, presidents don't comment on ongoing congressional probes or law enforcement investigations, but Mr. Trump broke from that convention with a Twitter message Friday morning.

"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. Trump wrote.

Asked whether the FBI and Congress should grant Mr. Flynn immunity, Mr. Spicer said the president "wants Mike Flynn to go and be completely open and transparent with the committee."

"And whatever it takes to do that, he's supportive of," Mr. Spicer said.

Mr. Flynn's attorney, Robert Kelner, said Thursday that Mr. Flynn would be willing to tell his story, but wanted assurances that he wouldn't be unfairly prosecuted.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Mr. Flynn asked for immunity from the FBI, as well as the Senate and House intelligence committees, in exchange for his testimony.

The two congressional investigations are headed by Republican members of Congress, while the FBI investigation is being overseen by Director James Comey, who technically reports to Mr. Trump, though the FBI has historically exercised significant independence from the White House.

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, said Friday that discussions about a possible grant of immunity for Mr. Flynn were premature and that the committee needed to do more work before any decision could be reached.

"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," Mr. Schiff said in a statement.

The Justice Department would only need to consider the immunity request if Congress decided to pursue the offer, and officials haven't had any discussions yet about what Mr. Flynn would be able to testify to in exchange for immunity, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Flynn was forced to resign after acknowledging that he misled top White House officials about his contacts with the Russian ambassador before Mr. Trump took office in January.

Separately, Mr. Schiff visited the White House on Friday to view documents that administration officials said they had uncovered that raise concerns about the management of classified information by the previous administration -- an issue that is part of the House and Senate probes.

On Thursday, the White House invited Mr. Schiff -- and his colleagues on the House and Senate intelligence committees -- to view documents that Mr. Spicer said the White House had uncovered related to requests by officials to "unmask" the identities of people working for Mr. Trump's transition team. Unmasking is an intelligence community term referring to revealing the identity of U.S. residents mentioned or monitored in foreign surveillance.

After reviewing the documents, Mr. Schiff said that "if the White House had any concern over these materials, they should have been shared with the full committees in the first place as a part of our ordinary oversight responsibilities."

"Nothing I could see today warranted a departure from the normal review procedures," Mr. Schiff said in a statement.

The chairman of the House investigation, Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), met a source at a meeting on the White House grounds March 21. The following day, he told the media that U.S. intelligence agencies collected information about Mr. Trump and his team during the presidential transition period.

Democrats and others have questioned Mr. Nunes's independence and have called on him to recuse himself from the Russia probe amid media reports identifying his sources as White House officials.

The documents provided to Mr. Schiff and other lawmakers by the White House include the same documents viewed last week by Mr. Nunes, a person familiar with the matter said.

While Mr. Nunes has been under fire for his perceived coordination with the White House, he has said he has long been concerned about leaks of information from U.S. surveillance operations.

--Shane Harris and Aruna Viswanatha contributed to this article.

Write to Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com and Carol E. Lee at carol.lee@wsj.com
 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 01, 2017 02:32 ET (06:32 GMT)

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