President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination on Monday and declined to hand over documents sought under subpoena by a Senate panel investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
In a letter to the Senate intelligence committee, Flynn’s attorneys justified the decision by citing an “escalating public frenzy against him” and saying the Justice Department’s recent appointment of a special counsel has created a legally dangerous environment for him to cooperate with the panel’s investigation.
“The context in which the committee has called for General Flynn’s testimonial production of documents makes clear that he has more than a reasonable apprehension that any testimony he provides could be used against him,” the attorneys wrote in the letter, which was obtained by the AP.
Flynn’s decision not to cooperate with the Senate committee represents a new legal complication for the expanding government and congressional inquiries into Russian interference in the presidential campaign and contacts between Trump advisers and Russian officials and representatives. Flynn is a key figure in both the FBI investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller and in separate Senate and House inquiries.
Trump appointed Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and top military intelligence chief, as his top national security aide in January, only to fire him less than a month later. Trump said that Flynn had misled top U.S. officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about his contacts with Russian officials, including Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.
Flynn’s letter to the Senate committee stressed that his decision to invoke his constitutional protection is not an admission of wrongdoing but rather a response to the current political climate in which Democratic members of Congress are calling for his prosecution, the person said.
Legal experts had said Flynn was unlikely to turn over the documents without a grant of immunity because doing so might compel him to waive some of his constitutional protections.
Trump himself walked back into the Russia controversy during his visit to Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, standing beside him, was asked Monday if he had any concerns about intelligence sharing with the U.S.
After Netanyahu responded — he said the cooperation was terrific — Trump volunteered that he “never mentioned the word or the name Israel” during his recent Oval Office conversation with top Russian diplomats.
That comment referred to revelations that he divulged classified information about an Islamic State threat in his May 10 meeting in the Oval Office with Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador. U.S. officials have said the information originated with Israel. However, it has not been alleged that Trump told the Russians that Israel was the source.
Trump has defended Flynn since his ouster and called on him to strike an immunity deal because Flynn is facing a “witch hunt.” The president’s comments are in stark contrast to his harsh words during the 2016 campaign for people who received immunity or invoked the Fifth Amendment in the probe of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
“You see, the mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” Trump said during a September campaign rally in Iowa.
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