© Reuters. White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C) arrives before a joint press conference between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, United States .
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US President Donald Trump on Friday backed his former national security adviser’s decision to seek immunity in congressional investigations into possible links between his election campaign and Russia, but there was no immediate indication that the request is granted.
Retired General Michael Flynn, who resigned just 24 days after becoming a national security adviser, wants protection from “unfair prosecution” if he testifies before the intelligence committees of the US Senate and the House of Representatives, his attorney, Robert Kelner.
Flynn’s testimony could help shed light on conversations he had last year with Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, while he was a national security adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign.
Trump, a Republican, said in a tweet that Democrats were instigating congressional investigations because they were upset by his Nov. 8 victory over his party’s candidate, Hillary Clinton.
“Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in the sense that this is a witch hunt (excuse for a major electoral defeat), by the media and the Democrats, of historic proportions!” Trump said.
Trump declined further comment when asked about Flynn during a White House meeting with American manufacturers.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters that he was not concerned that Flynn could provide information that could be detrimental to the administration. He said Trump wanted Flynn to testify to “put this matter behind him,” but declined to specifically say that he should be granted immunity.
“The chair is very clear that he wants Mike Flynn to be completely open and transparent with the committee, and whatever it takes to do that he supports it,” Spicer said.
US Rep. Adam Schiff, a senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said it was too early to consider immunity requests.
“As with any investigation, and particularly one that grows in severity and magnitude by the day, there is still a lot of work and many more witnesses and documents to obtain before any request for immunity from any witness can be considered,” said Schiff it’s a statement.
Schiff said the panel will discuss any request with the Justice Department and the Senate Intelligence Committee, describing such a request as “a serious and momentous step.”
Schiff went to the White House on Friday at the administration’s invitation to review documents he said supported Trump’s claim that he and his team were under surveillance by the Obama administration during the presidential campaign.
Republican House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has been criticized by his colleagues on the panel for his handling of the investigation of possible Russian connections, including going to the White House compound independently to review documents about the alleged surveillance.
FBI Director James Comey has said there is no evidence of wiretapping at Trump Tower in New York, but that the agency is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
Senator Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also said it was too early to discuss immunity.
A government official with direct knowledge of the case told Reuters that Flynn’s lawyers raised the request for immunity about 10 days ago with representatives of the Senate panel.
Officials told them that the committee was not interested in any discussion about immunity at the time.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Flynn had also requested immunity from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in exchange for testimony.
Flynn was forced to resign on February 13 for failing to disclose conversations with Kislyak about US sanctions on Moscow and misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the talks, which occurred before Trump took office.
Congressional committees and the FBI are investigating allegations by US intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election campaign.
The Russian government has denied the allegations and has denied hacking emails from Democratic groups and published information to tilt the election towards Trump, who has called for better US relations with Moscow.
In a CNN interview on Friday, King defended the investigations. “This is not a witch hunt,” King said. “This is an effort to get to the truth on some very important questions.
“There is no doubt that the Russians were behind an effort to interfere in our elections,” he said. “To continue denying that, it just goes against all reality.”