U.S. lawmakers of both political parties have told VOA they are not surprised by media reports that President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, will refuse to hand over documents pertaining to a Senate investigation of Russian meddling in last year's presidential election.
“I’m not the least bit surprised,” said Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. “He (Flynn) is facing, potentially, potentially, criminal charges. I can't imagine his lawyer would advise him to do anything but plead the Fifth.”
Flynn resigned in February
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects Americans against self-incrimination, stating that no person can be compelled to be a witness against himself in a criminal case.
Flynn was forced to resign in February after media reports surfaced that he lied about his contacts with Russia's ambassador. Last week, The New York Times reported that Flynn had informed Trump's transition team that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkish interests during the presidential campaign, but he was named national security adviser nonetheless.
“We have certain constitutional protections,” said Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. “We (Americans) have a right to refuse to testify. But that also has implications that may not be good for the person invoking that particular privilege.”
Could face contempt charges
By declining to cooperate with a congressional investigation, Flynn could be held in contempt of Congress, which could add to his legal woes. Leahy said it is too soon to speculate on that possibility.
“Let's see where the investigation goes,” the senator said. “The truth will come out. There's a number of people in this administration involved improperly with the Russians, and it will all come out eventually.”
Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, vice chairman, issued a statement saying, “While we recognize General Flynn's constitutional right to invoke the Fifth Amendment, we are disappointed he has chosen to disregard the committee's subpoena request for documents relevant and necessary to our investigation. We will vigorously pursue General Flynn's testimony and his production of any and all pertinent materials.”
Trump has denied any collusion with Moscow to influence the election, and he blasted last week's naming of a special counsel to probe the Russian matter as a “witch hunt.”
Flynn paid by Russians
While former FBI director Robert Mueller takes over the Justice Department's Russia investigation, two congressional committees are continuing separate probes, including the Senate Intelligence Committee, which subpoenaed Flynn to turn over documents.
Flynn previously sought congressional immunity from prosecution before testifying, although no one has granted it to him. Legal experts say that if he had complied with the subpoena for the documents, he risked being unable to invoke his constitutional right not to testify against himself.
Flynn was paid more than $500,000 for his Turkish representation. He also was paid more than $30,000 for his involvement with Russian interests, including attending a 2015 dinner in Moscow celebrating the Kremlin-supported RT television network, where he sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
(Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.)