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CNN suspects Michael Flynn’s family deleted communications, demands ‘forensic search’ of phones

Michael Flynn and family's disputed July 4, 2020 video

This is a screenshot of a video of Michael Flynn and family from July 4, 2020, which appeared in a CNN segment describing it as a QAnon oath.

Suspecting that Michael Flynn’s family members deleted documents and communications, CNN asked a federal judge to order a forensic examination of their cellphones.

It’s the latest wrinkle over the fallout of a video that former national security advisor Michael Flynn posted of himself and his family members at a July 4th barbecue on 2020.

In the footage, the Flynns raised their right hands in the style of a pledge of allegiance, reciting the words “Where we go one, we go all.” Flynn posted the video to his Twitter account with the hashtag #TakeTheOath. CNN flagged the video in a segment days later, characterizing it as a QAnon oath. The broadcasts sparked multiple federal lawsuits by Flynn family members, claiming the resemblance of the slogan and hashtag to the extremist conspiracy theories are incidental.

The lawsuit currently snaking through the Southern District of New York, filed by Flynn’s brother John “Jack” Flynn and that sibling’s wife Leslie Flynn, insisted that what CNN branded an oath was a “simple, family, July 4 statement of support for each other.”

As discovery in that case progresses, CNN claims that the Flynns have stonewalled requests for encrypted chats.

“Plaintiffs’ counsel has said he has not — and will not — search additional messaging platforms containing potentially responsive documents on his clients’ cell phones, despite confirming that his clients communicated on these platforms,” the network’s lawyer Katherine M. Bolger, from the firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, wrote in a filing on Thursday evening.

CNN believes that relevant messages might be lurking on Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram.

“A forensic search is warranted here given the serious doubts created by Plaintiffs’ incomplete document productions and failure to produce responsive documents and communications unless confronted by the document via a third party production,” Bolger wrote. “Finally, Plaintiffs’ counsel has admitted that Plaintiffs have either deleted or no longer have access to some documents and communications that are relevant to this matter and were created when they were contemplating this litigation.”

The network is now considering how to proceed.

“In the event that those materials have been deleted or are no longer accessible, Defendant’s counsel reserves the right to seek an adverse inference and/or seek sanctions,” the letter continues.

In legal terminology, an “adverse inference” is an instruction to a jury or other fact-finder that missing evidence would have been unfavorable if preserved. CNN did not specify in the letter what other sanctions they may seek.

The Flynns’ lawyer Steven Biss did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

The QAnon movement posits that an elite cabal of child-eating, pedophile Satanists has seized control of the U.S. government — and is trying to undermine former President Donald Trump. The conspiracy theory motivated numerous participants in the Jan. 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, several of whom have been convicted. Long before then, the FBI warned in 2019 that QAnon and conspiracy theories like it represent a domestic terror threat.

In December 2021, U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods advanced the Flynns’ suit only in part, overruling a magistrate’s finding that the relatives’ own tweets exposed them as QAnon adherents. Woods noted that the hurdle the Flynns must clear on a motion to dismiss is a low one.

“Even though the tweets express support for QAnon and are therefore evidence that the Flynns were QAnon followers, the Court cannot weigh evidence in deciding a motion to dismiss,” the judge wrote, sending the case to discovery more than a year ago. “Instead, the Court’s task is to assess the legal feasibility of the complaint.”

The judge dismissed their defamation claim at the time, but he allowed them to proceed with a single count alleging they were portrayed in a false light.

Read CNN’s redacted letter below:

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."