When the news broke on Thursday that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is seeking immunity to testify before Congress and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it was treated like Sammy “The Bull” Gravano turning on mafia boss John Gotti.
“The First to Crack?” was the headline at Axios, where Mike Allen warned, “Flynn is a loose cannon with nothing left to lose. The Trump camp should be worried.
“The Flynn Ultimatum” splashed across the Huffington Post front page.
On Bloomberg television, anchor Tom Keene declared that “the weathervane changed last night for the president,” and reporter Kevin Cirilli agreed, calling Flynn’s move “a devastating blow” to the Trump administration.
Across the media, people were gleefully repeating Flynn’s own words from an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd last year when he suggested something sinister behind immunity requests from people with connections to Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “I mean, five people around her have been given immunity, to include her former chief of staff. When you are given immunity, that means you have probably committed a crime.”
Others reminded us that President Trump, as a candidate, told a rally last year that immunity requests were basically proof of wrongdoing. “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,” he said. “If you are not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for, right?”
But the idea that Trump’s inner circle is about to turn on him with devastating revelations about Russian interference in the election and collusion with the Trump team is probably just wishful thinking on the part of the president’s political opponents.
A retired US Army Lieutenant General, Flynn has been under intense media scrutiny since he was fired as National Security Adviser less than a month after taking the job. He was let go after it was revealed that he had not disclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador that appear to have undercut the Obama administration’s efforts to punish Moscow for what US intelligence agencies insist was a Kremlin-backed effort to damage Clinton’s candidacy.
Under the circumstances, legal experts say, it makes perfect sense for Flynn to seek assurances that he won’t be put in legal jeopardy, even if he doesn’t believe he has actually done anything wrong.
Indeed, that’s the exact argument his attorney, Robert K. Kelner, made in a statement Thursday. His client, Kelner said, “has a story to tell and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit.”
However, he added, “Notwithstanding his life of national service, the media are 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. 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.”
Trump made the case somewhat less delicately on Twitter Friday morning, writing, “Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!”
On the LawNewz blog, run by ABC chief legal affairs correspondent Dan Abrams, writer Rachel Stockman polled various well-known criminal defense attorneys, and the general verdict was that the immunity request was a simply evidence that Flynn’s attorney knows what he’s doing. The request was “fairly standard,” white collar criminal defense attorney Elkan Abramowitz told her. “I can’t imagine if I were his lawyer that I wouldn’t ask for immunity regardless of whether he did anything illegal or not,” said attorney Mark Zaid, who specializes in government whistleblower cases.
The request was “fairly standard,” white collar criminal defense attorney Elkan Abramowitz told her. “I can’t imagine if I were his lawyer that I wouldn’t ask for immunity regardless of whether he did anything illegal or not,” said attorney Mark Zaid, who specializes in government whistleblower cases.
This is not to say that Flynn hasn’t done anything wrong, or that he definitely won’t provide damning information about the Trump campaign and its relationship to Russia. But the simple fact that he has requested immunity isn’t proof of either.