Flynn agrees to provide documents to Senate Russia probe
WASHINGTON — Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn will provide documents to the Senate intelligence committee as part of its probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, The Associated Press has learned.
Flynn’s decision Tuesday came as President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, rejected a House intelligence committee request for information, and former White House staffer Boris Epshteyn confirmed he has been contacted for information as part of the House investigation.
Meanwhile, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin sounded similar tones as they criticized the ongoing U.S. scrutiny of Russia’s attempts to sway the presidential election.
Flynn’s cooperation was the first signal that he and the Senate panel have found common ground. Congressional investigators continue to press for key documents in the ongoing investigation, and the retired lieutenant general is trying to limit damaging disclosures that hostile Democratic lawmakers could use against him.
Flynn had previously invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination in declining an earlier subpoena from the committee, which sought a wide array of documents and information related to his contacts with Russia. Flynn’s attorneys had argued the request was too broad and would have required Flynn to turn over information that could have been used against him.
In response, the Senate panel narrowed the scope of its request. It also issued subpoenas seeking records from Flynn’s businesses.
One of the businesses, Flynn Intel Group Inc., did consulting work for a Turkish businessman that required Flynn to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent earlier this year. The other, Flynn Intel Group LLC, was used to accept money from Flynn’s paid speeches. Among the payments was more than $33,000 Flynn received from RT, the Russian state-sponsored television network that U.S. intelligence officials have branded as a propaganda arm of the Kremlin.
On Tuesday, a person close to Flynn said he will turn over documents related to the two businesses as well as some personal documents the committee sought in the narrower request. Flynn plans to produce some of the documents by next week, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Flynn’s private interactions with the committee.
While the Senate committee awaits documents from Flynn, Putin and Trump both dismissed the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by hacking Democratic emails.
In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Putin reaffirmed his strong denial of Russian involvement in the hacking. The interview was recorded during Putin’s Monday trip to Paris and released Tuesday. Putin also said the allegations are “fiction” invented by the Democrats in order to explain their loss.
Trump made a similar claim in a tweet early Tuesday: “Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. & how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the Fake News.”
Meanwhile, Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, told the AP that he turned down a request for information from the House intelligence committee looking into the Russian interference.
“I declined the invitation to participate as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered,” Cohen said. “I find it irresponsible and improper that the request sent to me was leaked by those working on the committee.”
Earlier Tuesday, the AP reported, citing a congressional aide, that the House intelligence committee had subpoenaed Cohen. The aide later retracted the statement. Cohen said if he is subpoenaed, he will comply.
Cohen, a longtime attorney for the Trump Organization, remains a personal lawyer for Trump. He served as a cable television surrogate for the Republican during the presidential campaign.
Cohen told ABC News that he had been asked by both the House and Senate intelligence committees to provide information and testimony about contacts he had with Russian officials.
Cohen’s ties with Russian interests came up in February when The New York Times reported that Cohen helped to broker a Ukraine peace plan that would call for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine and a referendum to let Ukrainians decide whether the part of the country seized by Russia in 2014 should be leased to Moscow. The Russian government denied knowing anything about such a plan.
The Times reported that the peace plan was the work of Felix Sater, a business associate who has helped Trump try to find business in Russia, and Cohen.
Cohen was a fierce defender of Trump during the campaign, often haranguing probing reporters and famously challenging a CNN reporter live on-air to name the specific polls that showed then-candidate Trump behind his rival, Hillary Clinton.
In the early 2000s, he formed his own firm working on a range of legal matters, including malpractice cases, business law and work on an ethanol business in Ukraine. Cohen also owned and operated a handful of taxi medallions, managing a fleet of cabs in New York.
Cohen’s business associates in the taxi enterprise included a number of men from the former Soviet Union, including his Ukrainian-born father-in-law.
Cohen has made his own unsuccessful attempts at public office, losing a city council race and briefly running for state assembly in New York.
The House intelligence committee has also sought information from Epshteyn, a former staffer in the Trump White House.
Epshteyn said in a statement that he has asked the committee questions to better understand what information it is seeking and will determine whether he can reasonably provide it.
Epshteyn, who grew up in Moscow, worked a short time in the White House press office. He left in March and now works as a political analyst for right-leaning Sinclair Broadcasting.
Associated Press writers Julie Bykowicz, Eileen Sullivan and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report. Pearson reported from New York.