Michael Flynn’s Russia connections back in the spotlight

PHOTO: Former national security adviser Michael Flynn is seen in this file photo arriving at a swearing in ceremony of White House senior staff in the East Room of the White House on January 22, 2017 in Washington, D.C. PlayAndrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images
WATCH General Mike Flynn sought immunity in exchange for testimony

Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, is back in the spotlight this week after he requested immunity as a condition for speaking with congressional investigators about Russia’s meddling in the presidential election.

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That request, however, appears to have been rebuffed by both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. Two sources told ABC News that the Senate Intelligence Committee described Flynn’s proposal as a “non-starter.” The House committee released a statement calling the request a “grave and momentous step,” adding that it’s too early to consider a request for immunity.

In a statement, Flynn’s lawyer said “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 came to Flynn’s defense on Twitter, saying "this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!"

But last year, both Trump and Flynn were highly critical of aides to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who had asked for immunity in exchange for cooperating in the investigation into her use of a private email server for official government business. “When you are given immunity, that means you probably committed a crime,” Flynn told "Meet the Press" in an interview last year.

During a rally in Wisconsin last year Trump said, “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.”

Flynn resigned from his post after his relationship with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak attracted scrutiny and his communications with Kislyak dominated the young Trump administration. The president asked for Flynn's resignation when it was disclosed that Flynn had given Vice President Mike Pence a false account of his conversations with Kislyak.

Talking and Texting With an Ambassador

While Attorney General Jeff Sessions had contact with Kislyak during Trump's campaign when Sessions was still a senator and Trump surrogate, Flynn's known contacts with Kislyak are not believed to have started until during the transition.

PHOTO: Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, left, leaves the Mayflower Hotel after a foreign policy speech by then Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, April 27, 2016, in Washington, D.C. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, left, leaves the Mayflower Hotel after a foreign policy speech by then Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, April 27, 2016, in Washington, D.C.

Flynn and Kislyak exchanged holiday greetings over texts on Christmas Day, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said later.

Spicer told reporters in a transition team phone call on Jan. 13 that Flynn had texted Kislyak, wishing the Russian ambassador Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Flynn also said he looked forward to working with Kislyak, according to Spicer.

Four days after the Christmas text exchange, the two spoke again by text, with Kislyak asking Flynn to arrange a phone call. Flynn's and Kislyak’s call "centered around the logistics of setting up a call with the president of Russia and the president-elect after he was sworn in,” Spicer said, adding, "they exchanged logistical information on how to initiate and schedule that call. That was it. Plain and simple."

Spicer later told ABC News the two discussed a number of topics on the phone, including the crash of a Russian military plane carrying an army choir on Christmas Day and an invitation from the Russian government to the incoming Trump administration to attend upcoming Syrian peace talks.

The conversations between Flynn and Kislyak were happening at the same time the Obama administration was sanctioning Russia for election hacking.

Flynn had initially told Pence that he had not spoken about the sanctions with the Russian ambassador, but that was not the case.

On Jan. 26, the Justice Department's then-acting attorney general, Sally Yates, informed White House counsel Don McGahn that it appears, based on public comments from the Vice President, that he had been misled by Flynn about the nature of the expressed concerns that Russia might try to blackmail Flynn. Flynn was then fired for lying to the Vice President.

Payments Before the Presidential Bid

In the year before Flynn endorsed Trump for president, Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was paid $56,200 in 2015 by three Russian firms owned by or closely tied to the Kremlin, according to documents released by congressional Democrats.

Russia's state-owned TV network, RT, paid $45,000 for the retired three-star general to speak at what the Russian organizers described as a "private, invitation-only conference,” to Leading Authorities, the speakers bureau that represented Flynn. Flynn’s fee was $33,750; the remainder was the agent’s fee.

"General Flynn worked with a speakers bureau and what you're seeing is a result of that," Flynn's spokesman Price Floyd told ABC News on March 16.

In the 24 pages of assorted 2015 emails and documents voluntarily handed over to the House Oversight Committee by Leading Authorities, RT did not mention that the Dec. 10, 2015, conference and dinner in Moscow celebrating the Russian network's 10th anniversary would be broadcast on television worldwide or that the star speaker -- within arm's reach of Flynn in a video of the televised event -- would be Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Floyd said he did not know if the retired general felt misled by RT in its correspondence before the 10th anniversary gala, which offered vague answers to questions from the speakers bureau about who else would attend. But he said Flynn informed defense intelligence officials both before and after the gala that he was attending as a paid guest. The emails were voluntarily handed over to the committee by Flynn's speaker bureau at the committee's request.

"General Flynn informed and briefed DIA before his trip to Russia that he was going to get paid for it. On his return, he briefed DIA about his trip to Russia," Floyd said.

But Democrats claim the RT fee, as well as additional payments totaling $22,500 to Flynn by Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab and Volga-Dnepr Airlines, add up to a clear violation of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause, which prohibits retired generals from accepting direct or indirect payments from foreign governments, according to Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee's ranking member.

Cummings asked the Pentagon to investigate Flynn for this shortly before Trump asked for his resignation in February.

In a new letter released on March 16, Cummings charged that Flynn had "violated the Constitution" by accepting such payments from "an agent of a global adversary that attacked our democracy," an apparent reference to U.S. intelligence agencies' assessment that Russian government-directed hackers had pilfered emails of the Democratic National Committee and Secretary Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Ties to Turkey

Russia is not the only foreign agent that Flynn is known to have ties to; it was revealed after his resignation that Flynn had done lobbying work prior to his appointment as national security adviser that "could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey," according to documents filed with the Department of Justice.

A source familiar with the situation tells ABC News Flynn informed the White House counsel team both during the transition and after the inauguration that he would have to file as a foreign agent because of the work he did on behalf of the Turkish government.

This source could not say if Flynn first made the team aware of his situation before or after President-elect Trump announced on Nov. 18 that he would be appointing the former general as his national security adviser.

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