There are lies. There are truths. And then there are statements that say nothing. For example, take a look at the non-statement from the lawyer for former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn — a central figure in the Trump team’s contacts with Russia — as he promises to give information to Congress in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Like a whipped meringue, it looks tempting but contains nothing of substance — and is puffed up to look much bigger than it actually is.
Deconstructing the non-statement from the lawyer for Michael Flynn
Statement by Robert Kelner, Counsel to Lt. General Mike Flynn (Ret.)
General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit.
Commentary: Why is he “Mike” rather than “Michael”? And why, in this letter, is it “General” rather than “Lt. General”? Starting right at the top, we see that this communication is about Flynn’s image rather than substance. Even the simple opening sentence about testifying contains a qualifier.
Translation: Lt. General Flynn will testify, unless he doesn’t.
Out of respect for the Committees, we will not comment right now on the details of discussions between counsel for General Flynn and the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, other than to confirm that those discussions have taken place. But it is important to acknowledge the circumstances in which those discussions are occurring.
Commentary: Why does the lawyer, who is supposedly writing this, talk about himself in the third person? It’s clear that Flynn wrote this himself.
Translation: We’re talking to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
General Flynn is a highly decorated 33-year veteran of the US Army. He devoted most of his life to serving his country, spending many years away from his family fighting this nation’s battles around the world. He was awarded four Bronze Stars for actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the war on terror. He received the Legion of Merit twice, and the Defense Superior Service Medal four times. He is a recipient of the Defense Department’s Distinguished Service Award and the Intelligence Community Gold Seal Medallion for Distinguished Service, as well as numerous other decorations.
Commentary: Why are Flynn’s decorations relevant to his testimony to the committee? Whether Flynn has served his country is not at issue; whether he and other Trump officials conspired with Russia to swing the election is. And now we see why this letter has to come from the lawyer — because if Flynn wrote it himself, the descriptions of his medals would seem completely self serving. (They do anyway.)
Translation: Lt. General Flynn is a really good soldier and spy; he has the medals to prove it.
Notwithstanding his life of national service, the media are awash with unfounded allegations, outrageous claims of treason, and vicious innuendo directed against him. He is now the target of unsubstantiated public demands by Members of Congress and other political critics that he be criminally investigated. No reasonable person, who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized, witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution.
Commentary: This is the only significant fact here: the justification for Flynn testifying is that everyone is out to get him.
Translation: Lt. General Flynn is requesting immunity because he is afraid.
Reading between the lines
“When you are given immunity, that means you have probably committed a crime.” That’s what Flynn himself said last year, when discussing people who took immunity in the Hillary Clinton email investigation. If he believed that then, what are we to think now?
There is no actual need for a statement here, because there is very little to say. The actions speak louder than the words. This statement is pure spin.
Here’s how the statement would read if it were limited to facts that matter:
Lt. General Michael Flynn has requested immunity from prosecution in order to testify to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
That’s the only relevant fact, and we already knew it before he made the statement.
Here’s how it would read if it were honest about Flynn’s motivation.
I, General Michael (“Mike”) Flynn, am a decorated war veteran and spy. Since I lied about talking to the Russians and then resigned, the media has been hounding me. I’m scared, and as a general, I don’t like fear. So I’m requesting immunity offer and then I will testify. You may think less of everyone in the Trump administration after I reveal what I know, but I hope this lets me retain my dignity and my pension.
Should you ever make a non-statement?
Flynn’s in a bind. As soon as he opens his mouth, he’s subject to prosecution. His only out is to get immunity, then to talk first and only to congressional committees and investigators.
So how can he preserve his reputation?
My advice would be to say nothing.
That’s very hard advice to take for someone as proud as Michael Flynn. But when you make a non-statement, everyone knows you’re saying nothing. Getting your medals on the record will be meaningless. The only thing people will care about is what they hear about your actions, and those will come out very soon.