Chad Day, Eileen Sullivan ?and Julie Pace
WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump urged his former national security adviser to strike an immunity deal Friday, even as congressional investigators rebuffed Michael Flynn’s offer of cooperation in exchange for protection from prosecution.
Trump tweeted that Flynn, the adviser he fired in February, should ask for immunity because he’s facing “a witch hunt.”
The White House also tried to quell a firestorm over its role in helping a top GOP lawmaker see secret intelligence reports. Rep. Adam Schiff went to the White House to view materials that he said were “precisely the same” as what House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes viewed there last week.
“The White House has yet to explain why senior White House staff apparently shared these materials with but one member,” said Schiff, who met with Trump for about 10 minutes while at the White House.
The congressional investigations into Russian election interference and the Trump campaign’s possible Russian ties have become a near-daily distraction for a new administration struggling to find its footing. Trump has vigorously denied that his campaign coordinated with Russia during the election.
The president weighed in on Flynn the day after the ousted national security adviser’s attorney confirmed the immunity discussions with intelligence committees in both the Senate and House that are investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
A congressional aide confirmed that preliminary discussions with the Senate Intelligence Committee involved immunity but that it was too early in the probe to set terms. The aide, not authorized to discuss the conversations, spoke on condition of anonymity.
It was unclear from Trump’s tweet whether he was advising the Justice Department or the congressional panels to give his ex-adviser immunity. The president is not supposed to direct ongoing investigations.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump just wants Flynn to testify, and there are no concerns that Flynn could implicate the president in any wrongdoing.
Schiff said committee leaders would discuss the issue with their Senate counterparts and the Justice Department.
“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,” Schiff said in a statement.
Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, said no “reasonable person” who has a lawyer would answer questions without assurances that he would not be prosecuted, given calls from some members of Congress that the retired lieutenant general should face criminal charges.
Flynn seemed to have a different view last September when he weighed in on the implications of immunity on NBC’s Meet the Press, criticizing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her associates in the FBI’s investigation into her use of a private email server.
“When you are given immunity, that means that you have probably committed a crime,” Flynn said in the interview.
Flynn’s ties to Russia have been scrutinized by the FBI and are under investigation by the congressional committees. Both panels are looking into Russia’s meddling in the election and any ties between Trump aides and the Kremlin.
Since July, the FBI has been conducting a counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s interference in the election and possible coordination with Trump associates.
Dems question clearance
Meanwhile, four Democratic senators have charged in a series of letters that Trump’s appointment of Flynn “might have jeopardized national security” and demanded information on why seemingly obvious red flags were overlooked in his vetting for the position, according to the McClatchy Washington Bureau.
The senators also questioned the granting of a top secret security clearance to Sebastian Gorka, a former editor at the Breitbart website who is a senior adviser to Trump. They accused Gorka of not noting on his U.S. citizenship application that he had belonged to a neo-Nazi organization in his native Hungary.
“Portions of the White House’s security clearance process have experienced breakdowns since the beginning of the new administration,” the four senators, all members of the Homeland Security Committee, wrote in a series of letters dated March 30 to Defense Secretary James Mattis, FBI Director James Comey and Marcia Lee Kelly, director of management and administration.
The McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.