'If you're innocent, why are you taking the 5th?': Trump's comments about pleading the 5th could come back to bite him

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President Donald Trump slammed Hillary Clinton staffers who requested immunity or invoked their Fifth Amendment rights last year in response to requests to testify about the former secretary of state’s private email server.

“If you are not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for?” Trump said at a Florida campaign rally in September.

“The mob takes the Fifth Amendment,” Trump said at a subsequent campaign event in Iowa. “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”

That was then. Now, Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, requested immunity from prosecution in March in exchange for testifying before the House and Senate intelligence committees about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. And on Monday, Flynn is expected to flout a Senate subpoena for documents related to his contacts with Russia by invoking his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer has also weighed in on the amendment, tweeting in 2013: “why do u take the 5th if you have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide?”

“It’s conceivable that Flynn is innocent,” Glenn Carle, a former CIA operative who worked closely with the FBI during his time as an intelligence officer, said shortly after Flynn requested immunity. “But the FBI is extremely powerful, and has sources everywhere. So assuming Flynn is asking for immunity because he thinks he did something wrong, and wants to save his own arse, the bureau will probably say, ‘Thanks, but no — why should we do you a favour if we don’t even need your testimony?'”

Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, would not comment on whether the House Intelligence Committee had agreed to Flynn’s immunity request. But he hinted in an interview last week that the committee might not need the story that Flynn’s lawyer has said he is eager to tell.

“Speaking as a former prosecutor,” Swalwell said, “you would only offer immunity to a witness who could provide testimony you could not otherwise obtain.”

Flynn’s potential ties to Russia have been of particular interest to the intelligence committees because of his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, that eventually led to his ouster. CNN on Friday reported that Russian officials boasted of their relationship with Flynn throughout 2016. They saw him as an ally who could help Moscow make inroads with Trump, said CNN, citing unnamed sources.

Flynn is also currently the focus of a criminal investigation by the FBI, according to NBC, which is examining whether his failure to disclose several foreign relationships on his security clearance forms violated federal law.

The former general’s baggage is well-known. He was fired by President Barack Obama as head of the Defence Intelligence Agency in 2014 and sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a dinner celebrating Russia Today’s 10th anniversary in 2015. Still, Trump’s family “had a blind spot” for Flynn, according to NBC, and reportedly hired him even after he informed Trump’s transition team that he was being investigated by the FBI over his lobbying work for Turkey.

Ultimately, Flynn’s time at the White House lasted just 24 days. He was asked to resign on February 13 — nearly three weeks after former acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail — over reports that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak during the transition.

But Trump continued to defend him, going as far as suggesting to FBI Director James Comey the day after Flynn resigned to drop the investigation into Flynn’s foreign contacts, according to a memo Comey wrote about the conversation.

Reuters reported Thursday that the Trump campaign had at least 18 previously undisclosed contacts with Russian officials during the election, six of which were between Flynn and Kislyak. The two were trying to establish a “back channel” between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin “that could bypass the US national security bureaucracy,” according to Reuters.

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