How often does one see a top law enforcement officer publicly urging a witness to demand immunity in an investigation, let alone one of his former aides? As Andrew noted in the previous post, Michael Flynn reportedly wants immunity from prosecution before testifying before Congress about Russian influence in the 2016 election cycle. His former boss and political ally Donald Trump thinks that’s a great idea:
Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 31, 2017
That’s certainly a … unique and interesting approach to the Wall Street Journal shocker from last night. Normally, one would expect that a president, whose responsibilities include ensuring enforcement of the law, would encourage witnesses to testify honestly regardless of grants of immunity. On top of that, a former aide demanding immunity in a political scandal usually portends bad news for the boss, who would then do anything but encourage an immunity grant.
Trump’s tweet is meant to signal that he has no fear of Flynn’s testimony, of course, as well as to take shots at his opponents for obsessing over Russia’s propaganda operations. It still raises one question, though. If this is a witch hunt, then why does Flynn need immunity? Witnesses usually demand immunity from prosecution in order to avoid a conviction for a crime, a point made by none other than Mike Flynn himself last September:
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) March 31, 2017
Remember that from the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe? The Department of Justice handed out several immunity grants but never prosecuted anyone, a point which Flynn said raised suspicions about the integrity of the investigation. (He wasn’t the only person raising the issue, either.) If Flynn’s now looking for similar protection against prosecution, then there must be fire to go with the smoke — right?
Er, maybe, and it might not be the fire everyone expects. Face the Nation host John Dickerson points out that this may be “just a lawyer doing his job” by getting the best arrangement for his client prior to testimony:
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) March 31, 2017
There’s a simpler answer than that, however. Flynn may well want to testify in the Congressional probes to underscore just how little there is to the idea of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence (or perhaps that there is more to that story), but he has other legal woes at the moment. Failing to register as a foreign agent is a felony, albeit one rarely prosecuted outside the context of espionage. Flynn’s likely to get grilled on that point, and without immunity he’d have to take the Fifth Amendment and waste everyone’s time. Flynn’s legal vulnerability on his work as an unregistered foreign agent may be why his legal team is insisting on immunity. Making that demand public puts pressure on Congress to either fish or cut bait.