Former FBI Director James Comey provided a window on Thursday into the ongoing threat that the wide-ranging investigation into Gen. Michael Flynn continues to pose for the Trump administration, suggesting that investigators could eventually attempt to cut a deal with Flynn.
“There is always a possibility if you have a criminal case against someone and you bring them in, squeeze them, flip them, [that] they give you information about something else,” Comey said during three hours of testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
In his first detailed discussion about his interactions with President Trump, Comey made clear that Flynn had emerged as a key figure early in what he called a “complex investigation.” That ongoing effort, Comey said, serves as an important backdrop to what Comey said was a stunning Oval Office appeal from President Trump to “let Flynn go.”
“General Flynn at that point in time was in legal jeopardy,” Comey testified. “There was an open criminal investigation in connection with the Russian contacts.”
Comey testified that he considered the appeal, which was made in a one-on-one conversation after Trump asked other cabinet members to leave the room, to be a “direction,” one that he chose not to obey. Trump has denied pressuring Comey to drop the investigation of Flynn, but shortly after he fired Comey in May, he admitted that Russia was on his mind when he did so.
“I don't think it's for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct,” Comey said. “I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning, but that's a conclusion I'm sure the special counsel will work to find out the intention and whether that's an offense.”
In a statement following Comey’s testimony, Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, disputed Comey’s recollections of his conversations with the president, including their discussion of the Flynn investigation.
“The President never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone, including suggesting that that Mr. Comey ‘let Flynn go,’” Kasowitz said.
Robert Kelner, Flynn’s attorney, has cautioned against leaping to conclusions about his client, releasing a statement in March saying the “media is awash with unfounded allegations, outrageous claims of treason, and vicious innuendo directed against him.”
In response to reports that Flynn had sought an immunity deal from congress, Kelner said the decorated war veteran was seeking “assurances against unfair prosecution.”
“General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,” wrote Kelner in a statement released March 30. Since that time, with no immunity offer in the works, sources close to Flynn have indicated that he would assert his Fifth Amendment rights rather than testify before congress.
Arguably the more serious potential threat facing Flynn comes from federal investigators. The FBI probe into Flynn, Comey revealed, has included an effort to determine whether the one-time national security adviser lied to the FBI about the nature of his conversations with Russia’s ambassador.
Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, asked Comey whether he or any FBI agent thought that Flynn “attempted to deceive you or made false statements to an FBI agent.”
“That was the subject of the criminal inquiry,” Comey replied.
Over time, that initial inquiry grew. Investigators have explored the retired three-star general’s $45,000 paid speaking engagement in Russia and a $500,000 contract for his consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, to do work that he later disclosed could benefit the Turkish government.
“So there could be something that gets a criminal aspect to this that doesn't have anything to do with the 2016 election cycle?” asked Sen. Richard Burr, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the Intelligence Committee.
“Correct,” Comey replied. “In any complex investigation, when you turn over a rock, sometimes you find things that are unrelated to the primary investigation that are criminal in nature.”