What Does it Mean to ‘Plead the Fifth’?

3 minute read

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn will reportedly invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s request for him to hand over documents related to his interactions with Russian officials.

According to the Associated Press, Flynn’s attorneys said the “escalating public frenzy” surrounding Flynn contributed in part to his decision to invoke his right to not self-incriminate. But what exactly does it mean to “plead the Fifth?”

For starters, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

The Fifth Amendment provides several protections for Americans as they encounter the justice system. Under this particular provision in the Bill of Rights, Americans are protected from “double jeopardy,” or prosecution for the same crime twice, granted the right to a grand jury in criminal proceedings. The amendment also protects against “self incrimination,” affirming a citizen’s right not to serve as a witness against himself or herself. Flynn’s lawyers are invoking that protection in his decision not to hand over documents to the Senate panel.

“The context in which the committee has called for General Flynn’s testimonial production of documents makes clear that he has more than a reasonable apprehension that any testimony he provides could be used against him,” Flynn’s attorneys wrote in a letter to the Senate.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Flynn, then-candidate Donald Trump and other Trump officials blasted aides of former Secretary of State for invoking the Fifth Amendment during a deposition last June. Clinton’s aide Bryan Pagliano was deposed for a civil case related to her use of a private email server.

“IT specialist takes 5th over 100 times,” Flynn wrote in a tweet that mentioned Clinton and linked to an article about her former aide’s actions.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer similarly tweeted that Clinton’s aide invoked the Fifth to “cover up her server scandal.”

Trump also weighed in, saying mobsters invoke the 5th. “The mob takes the Fifth Amendment,” said Trump in September.”If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”

The Huffington Post reported Trump himself pleaded the fifth 97 times over the course the proceedings for his divorce from Ivana Trump.

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