Investigations And Immunity /  Michael Ledeen ,   Contributor – FORBES MAGAZIN – 2 April 2017

I write about Italy, Iran and fascism.

I am one of the few survivors of the Iran-Contra investigations, which at the time—late 1980s and early 1990s—was ballyhooed as a huge scandal, likely destined to bring down the Reagan presidency. There were two main rings in that circus: a special Congressional committee, and a special prosecutor with unlimited funding and no deadline.

I was declared a “target” of a “criminal investigation,” even though my “crime” or “crimes” was (were) never identified. The investigators seemed to assume that I must have done something wrong, so it was just a matter of finding it. So I got six years of lawyers asking all manner of questions, and dispatching cunning IRS officials to analyze the kids’ savings accounts. It’s not fun. I was alarmed to learn from my lawyers that my greatest jeopardy was not for anything I’d actually done (talking to Iranians, Israelis and Saudis), but rather for any false statement I might make to the investigators.  “False,” mind you, not lying.

Your lawyers will tell you that if you make a factual error while testifying, you can go to jail, but they can’t convict a failed memory. That’s a big and excellent reason why witnesses so often say “I really don’t have a clear memory of that.”

Please write that down so you can repeat it the next time some self-proclaimed expert tells you that anyone caught up in an investigation who asks for immunity is doing it because he has something to hide. I keep reading such nonsense regarding General Mike Flynn’s reported request for immunity.  Just answering questions is dangerous. If you give an answer somewhat different from something you said in an earlier deposition, you may be charged with a felony.

Just ask Scooter Libby, whose life was ruined when he gave a misleading, or confused, or incomplete answer to FBI questioners. The Libby case is undoubtedly shaping the response of someone like General Flynn. It should. No matter how good your memory may be, it’s easy to “misremember” something, especially as, in Gen Flynn’s case, you were engaged in many phone conversations. In my own case, I was sure I had made a trip that turned out not to have happened at all. The botched memory didn’t matter—my recall of what I had done was accurate—but it showed me you have to be very careful before you talk to the investigators, who often are eager to prosecute.

If your main tool is a hammer, you’re looking for nails. If your main instrument is an indictment, you’re looking for something your target might have done wrong, whatever it is, even misspeaking.

It is said that an ambitious prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich, the point being that targets are often indicted on flimsy grounds. And even if you “win” in court or Congress, you will often pay a significant price for your victory.  After six years of being investigated, I was given a “clean” report card. But throughout that period it was hard to find work, easy to lose friends who didn’t want to be associated with someone who might be indicted, and painful to see parallel effects on family members, including young children.