Former National Security Adviser and retired Lt. General Mike Flynn caused quite a stir by offering testimony to Congress and the FBI in exchange for immunity on Thursday.
Many jumped to conclusions, often the same reporters who insisted requests for immunity by members of Hillary Clinton’s inner circle were routine and entirely meaningless. Here are five things known with certainty about the Flynn case at this time:
Requests for immunity are not admissions of guilt. We should get that out of the way right up front since so many people who know better are getting it wrong. It is certainly fair to comment on immunity deals or talk about the impression they convey. The details of the immunity agreements for certain figures in the Clinton email scandal were downright bizarre, and arguably impeded the investigation, rather than enhancing it. Clinton partisans argued that other immunity grants were routine and implied absolutely nothing untoward.
One reason Flynn’s immunity offer brought such a wave of innuendo in response is that Flynn himself said last year, while discussing the Clinton email scandal, “When you are given immunity, that means you have probably committed a crime.” Bringing his own words back to haunt him is irresistible for his critics.
Furthermore, President Trump said essentially the same thing about immunity deals when talking about Clinton. Bringing his words back to haunt him is absolutely irresistible for the media.
But no, as Business Insider points out in one the above-linked posts about Flynn and Trump being haunted by their words, “a request for immunity does not amount to an admission of guilt,” and “a person granted immunity may still be criminally prosecuted for crimes revealed in the testimony as long as the activity is confirmed with independent evidence.” The difference here is that the media didn’t want to jump to conclusions about what any of those Clinton immunity deals meant.
Flynn’s attorney said he desires immunity to escape a “highly politicized witch hunt environment.” The statement issued by Flynn’s attorney Robert Kelner on Thursday explains why Flynn offered to testify in exchange for immunity. According to Kelner, Flynn “certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit.”
After recounting the details of Flynn’s lengthy “life of national service,” Kelner states the media is “awash with unfounded allegations, outrageous claims of treason, and vicious innuendo directed against him.”
“He is now the target of unsubstantiated public demands by Members of Congress and other political critics that he be criminally investigated,” Kelner points out. “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.”
Flynn’s most serious legal jeopardy may involve contacts with Turkey, not Russia. Flynn’s offer involves testimony about contacts with Russia, and his tenure as National Security Adviser ended because of a conversation he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but nothing illegal about that conversation has yet been demonstrated. The more serious problem for Flynn could be his connections with the government of Turkey.
Clinton-era CIA Director James Woolsey said last week that Flynn met with Turkish officials last summer to discuss Turkey’s long-desired extradition of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused of masterminding the July coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Woolsey claims he walked into the middle of a conversation between Flynn and Turkish officials in New York, in which the idea of staging a covert operation “in the dead of night to whisk this guy away” was discussed. Woolsey has variously described this conversation as either “startling and illegal,” or “naive” and without “credibility.”
Flynn has “registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for $530,000 worth of lobbying work before Election Day that may have aided the Turkish government,” according to Fox News. The White House has said President Trump was not aware Flynn was working for the Turks.
Fortune describes the precise allegations Flynn may end up facing over Turkey:
On March 7, after being fired as National Security Adviser, Flynn belatedly filed a FARA disclosure that revealed that, through his firm, Flynn Intel Group, he had worked in 2016 on behalf of Inovo BV, a firm based in Netherlands and owned by a Turkish businessman with links to the Turkish government. Flynn’s firm was paid $530,000 by Inovo. Flynn’s FARA filing (available here) revealed that the September 19 meeting occurred and that Gülen was discussed. But the filing claims that Flynn’s work was on behalf of Inovo, not the Turkish government, and that it concerned merely “the political climate in Turkey” and “doing business in Turkey,” related to the export of natural gas. But Woolsey’s statements to the Journal and CNN, and the FARA filing now suggest this was either false or a woefully incomplete account of the client and the purpose of Flynn’s work—that Flynn was actually advising the Turkish government about the extrajudicial removal of a green card holder from the United States. Turkey’s foreign minister and the son-in-law of Erdoğan, the country’s energy minister, were Flynn’s interlocutors that day about putting Gülen “out of action.”
FARA is the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and it would appear to be the clearest example of a law Flynn might be charged with violating. However, former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, now a writer for National Review, said on Thursday that Flynn was “unlikely to be prosecuted” for his late filing as a foreign agent.
A few Flynn-Russia contacts could still prove troublesome. Flynn’s communication with Ambassador Kislyak may have resulted in no legal charges – he was dismissed because his account of the conversations to the White House, particularly Vice President Mike Pence, was not completely accurate. Yet questions have still been raised about a $33,000 speaking engagement for the state-controlled Russia Today news agency and $23,000 of speeches he gave to Russian firms. Democrats have alleged these speeches may have violated the Emoluments Clause.
Flynn’s offer of testimony for immunity has not been accepted yet. The Senate Intelligence Committee reportedly told Flynn it was “not receptive” to his offer “at this time” on Friday.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said there are “many more witnesses and documents to obtain” before any immunity request from Flynn would be considered.
Schiff took the opportunity to pronounce it was a “grave and momentous step” for a former National Security Adviser to the President of the United States to ask for immunity from prosecution,” but he gave no sign of granting it.
A spokesman for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said on Friday there has been a “preliminary conversation with Michael Flynn’s lawyer about arranging for Flynn to speak to the Committee,” but the discussion “did not include immunity or other possible conditions for his appearance.”
Schiff said the House Intelligence Committee would defer to the Justice Department, which at the time of this writing has given no indication it will offer Flynn immunity.