Russia-Gate Continues: Flynn Makes Play for Immunity
The investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia took an interesting turn on Thursday. Flynn has kept a low profile since resigning as National Security Adviser, yet his announcement thrust his name back into headlines. He is willing to testify before federal and congressional investigators in their ongoing probe into Russian involvement in the US elections, but only if he is granted immunity.
- Flynn announces intention to testify.
- Trump team double standards.
- Flynn’s history was concern to intelligence officials before appointment.
- Flynn integral to the Devin Nunes scandal.
A statement from his lawyer stated: “General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit… No reasonable person who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized, witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution.”
The statement has come amid increasing debate of the general’s activities before he joined Trump’s White House. The investigation is said to be focusing on Flynn’s contacts with foreign nationals and will also explore the nature of fees he received from foreign governments, in particular Russia and Turkey, and other entities.
Despite the potentially damaging implications of his testimony, Trump responded on Friday by encouraging Flynn to pursue immunity. “Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!” Trump tweeted.
While it is unclear whether the investigation committee would be willing to enter talks with Flynn and his counsel, it is clear that this advice flies in the face of Trump’s previous views on immunity.
Team Trump’s Anti-Immunity History
Those associated with Trump and his campaign seemed to have changed their tune in regard to what a plea for immunity implies. Not least of whom is Flynn himself. “When you are given immunity, that means that you have probably committed a crime,” Flynn said in September on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
At a rally in September Trump said: “The reason they get immunity is because they did something wrong. If they didn’t do anything wrong, they don’t think in terms of immunity. Five people. Folks, I’m telling you: Nobody’s seen anything like this in our country’s history.”
During the Republican National Convention Flynn led chants of “Lock her up” in reference to Hillary Clinton’s now infamous email saga. Kellyanne Conway and other advisers all tweeted their incredulity at the prospect of a Presidential candidate being under FBI investigation. You would hope the irony is not lost on them.
Flynn and the Russian Graduate
It has now surfaced that the intelligence community has held long held concerns about Flynn’s links to Russia and other countries. Surprisingly for someone appointed the National Security Adviser position, these links are numerous and beg the question – was Michael Flynn even vetted?
Flynn is known to have had contacts with a Russian-British graduate student, Svetlana Lokhova, whom Flynn met on a trip to Cambridge in February 2014. Flynn and Lokhova met each other at the end of a dinner attended by 20 guests who included Sir Richard Dearlove – the former head of MI6 – and Prof Christopher Andrew, the official MI5 historian.
Flynn has stated that the meeting with Lokhova was “incidental” and lasted 20 minutes. Yet Andrew has said Lokhova was invited to to accompany Flynn on his next official visit to Moscow.
Though the trip was cancelled due to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Flynn and Lokhova are said to have remained in contact. In one email exchange described by Andrew, Flynn signed himself as “General Misha”, Russian for Mike. Flynn would have been expected to report any conversation with an unknown person, especially with links to an “adversary” country, such as Russia.
Flynn did not disclose the conversations he had with Lokhova to the US authorities, but was not reprimanded. Sally Yates, the former Attorney General had accused Flynn of being vulnerable to blackmail. Whether the two are linked has yet to be confirmed.
There are additional concerns about fees Flynn had received from foreign powers. In 2015 he received around $45,000 for attending RT’s gala dinner in Moscow, where he sat next to Putin. Furthermore, two Russian firms paid Flynn $11,250 for speeches given in Washington. One of the firms in question was Kaspersky Lab, a Kremlin-linked cyber-security company.
Plea for Immunity & Nunes scandal
Flynn’s statement of his intention to testify, if offered immunity, has come at a turbulent time in the investigation of the administration’s links to Russia. Uproar has centered most recently on Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ decision to notify Trump of information regarding Trump’s wiretapping claims, instead of the committee.
The names of two of the sources who provided the information that Trump believed went some way to validating his, until now, unsubstantiated claims have come to light. They are Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and formerly worked on the staff of the House Intelligence Committee.
The fact that these sources are both White House officials with loyalty to Trump and his team has lead to further questioning of Nunes’ impartiality and his ability to continue in his role. More concerning for Flynn however is that it was he who brought Watnick into the White House, having worked together at the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Flynn has clearly had time to think during his absence from the White House, and for him to pursue an immunity deal suggests that he fears the Russia scandal is moving beyond the control of Trump and his inner circle.
The House intelligence committee “had a preliminary conversation with Michael Flynn’s lawyer about arranging for Flynn to speak to the committee,” Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said. “The discussions did not include immunity or other possible conditions for his appearance.” The likelihood of the Flynn’s story being told is questionable at the moment, but we can say with a fair amount of certainty that the contents would be explosive.
(Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore)