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story.lead_photo.caption Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, center, arrives in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, prior to the start of a joint news conference with President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump urged his former national security adviser to strike an immunity deal Friday, even as congressional investigators rebuffed Michael Flynn's offer of cooperation in exchange for protection from prosecution.

Trump tweeted that Flynn, the adviser he fired in February, should ask for immunity because he's facing "a witch hunt."

The president weighed in the day after Flynn's attorney confirmed the immunity discussions with intelligence committees in both the Senate and House that are investigating Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

A congressional aide confirmed that preliminary discussions with the Senate Intelligence Committee involved immunity but said it was too early in the investigation to set terms. The aide was not authorized to discuss private conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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It was unclear from Trump's tweet whether he was advising the Justice Department or the congressional panels to give his former adviser immunity. The president is not supposed to direct ongoing investigations.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump just wants Flynn to testify and that there are no concerns that Flynn could implicate the president in any wrongdoing.

Spicer said the president "thinks he should go out and tell his story."

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, said committee leaders would be discussing the immunity matter with their Senate counterparts and the Justice Department.

"We should first acknowledge what a grave and momentous step it is for a former national security adviser to the president of the United States to ask for immunity from prosecution," Schiff said in a statement.

"As with any investigation -- and particularly one that grows in severity and magnitude by the day -- there is still much work and many more witnesses and documents to obtain before any immunity request from any witness can be considered," he said.

A spokesman for Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the panel has not offered an immunity deal to Flynn.

The committee "had a preliminary conversation with Michael Flynn's lawyer about arranging for Flynn to speak to the committee," spokesman Jack Langer said. "The discussions did not include immunity or other possible conditions for his appearance."

Schiff, who has called for Nunes' recusal from the investigation because of his close ties to the White House, said the committee is interested in Flynn's testimony but is also "mindful" of the Justice Department's interests.

Congress has the authority to grant someone immunity, but doing so could jeopardize federal prosecutors' ability to use that person's testimony as the basis for any criminal case.

"When the time comes to consider requests for immunity from any witness, we will of course require a detailed proffer of any intended testimony," Schiff said.

Four other Trump associates have come forward in recent weeks, saying they would talk to the committees. As of Wednesday, the Senate panel had asked to interview 20 people.

Schiff also answered Trump's Twitter post with his own messages, saying that his committee would soon uncover the reasons Flynn wanted immunity.

"The question for you, Mr. President, is why you waited so long to act after you learned Flynn (through your VP) had misled the country?" Schiff wrote.

He was referring to the fact that Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, had informed the White House in January that Flynn had apparently misrepresented the nature of his communications with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, saying they had not spoken about U.S. sanctions against Russia -- when they had.

Flynn resigned three weeks later, ostensibly because he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his talks with Kislyak, and Pence had gone on to repeat the mischaracterization publicly in a television interview.

The credibility of the House inquiry was thrown into question on Thursday after it emerged that a pair of White House officials had helped provide Nunes with intelligence reports showing that Trump and his associates had been incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by U.S. spy agencies.

Armed with the information, Nunes held a news conference and made a public show of going to the White House to hand-deliver information to Trump, an apparent effort to help the White House explain why the president had taken to Twitter in early March to accuse President Barack Obama of wiretapping his telephone. The chiefs of the FBI and the National Security Agency have both testified that such surveillance never took place.

Nunes postponed a hearing that was to take place this week at which Yates was to testify.

Flynn's attorney, Robert Kelner, released a statement late Thursday after The Wall Street Journal first reported that Flynn's negotiations with Congress included discussions of immunity.

Kelner said that no "reasonable person" who has a lawyer would answer questions without assurances that he would not be prosecuted, given calls from some members of Congress that the retired lieutenant general should face criminal charges.

In September, Flynn weighed in on the implications of immunity on NBC's Meet the Press, criticizing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her associates in the FBI's investigation into her use of a private email server.

"When you are given immunity, that means that you have probably committed a crime," Flynn said during the interview.

Kelner said Thursday that "Gen. Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit."

Flynn's ties to Russia have been scrutinized by the FBI and are under investigation by the congressional committees. Both panels are looking into Russia's meddling in the election and any ties between Trump associates and the Kremlin.

Since July, the FBI has been conducting a counterintelligence investigation into Russia's interference in the election and possible coordination with Trump associates.

In the weeks after he resigned, Flynn and his business registered with the Justice Department as foreign agents for $530,000 worth of lobbying work that could have benefited the Turkish government.

The lobbying occurred while Flynn was a top Trump campaign adviser.

Information for this article was contributed by Chad Day, Eileen Sullivan and Julie Pace of The Associated Press; by Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times; and by Steven T. Dennis, Chris Strohm and Billy House of Bloomberg News.

A Section on 04/01/2017

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