Truth can be a cruel mistress. Sometimes a Lorrena Bobbit kind of cruel mistress. As such truth must be treated with both care and suspicion.
I know this runs contrary to what your parents, teachers and ministers may have taught you, that telling the truth is always the right thing to do.
You should, of course, always tell any truths that are either harmless which benefits you. That's a no-brainer.
But there are circumstances when telling the truth can get you and/or your friends in a lot of trouble. At times like that it's perfectly logical to do whatever is necessary to avoid telling truth.
That's the purpose of this primer. Think it as, “Truth-telling 2.0 – A Guide For Adults and Public Officials.”
In our nitpicking times you may someday find yourself in legal jeopardy. Say you've done something wrong (as in “illegal”) and you are about to be put oath and asked about it. You've going to have to swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
But you know that if you live up to that oath there's going to be hell to pay for it. Only a fool would voluntarily step up, tell the truth and himself or herself in jail. (Okay, you may be a crook. But you're no fool.)
So what to do?
I am happy to report that there are ways out of this jam. But you have to employ them skillfully and without a hint of hesitation or embarrassment.
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Under such circumstances, the last thing you want to do is to start coughing up the unvarnished truth. Still, the worst thing you can do though is just cook up a bunch of outright lies. Lies can be disproved with stuff called “evidence.” So you need to avoid concoction lies.
While lying is your only way out, it's how you lie that will make the difference between getting away or getting a bunk above some guy with “Mad Dog” tattooed on his forehead.
There are four basic techniques to address your little problem:
1) Try to avoid taking the oath
Say, Congress wants to question you under oath about something they think you did.
Pretend to be offended by the implication that, unless put under oath, you may lie. (How dare they! etc. etc.)
Tell them you'd be happy to talk to them any time they want, at their convenience, at your office. Your secretary will provide coffee and pastries and they can ask as many questions as they want about anything they want. (Make sure the press knows about this "offer.")
But – and this is critcally important – besides not being put under oath, you also don't want a transcript made of your answers. Explain that you want the conversation to be open, frank and relaxed, and feel and that a transcriber would cause people to “pull their punches,” and stifle the kind “openness that can put all these groundless accusations to rest once and for all.”
The real reason, of course, is that the last thing you want is a transcript of your answers, since you know you're guilty and that it's almost certain your answers won't exactly jive with subsequently discovered “facts” and the testimony of others.
When such “contradictions” materialize – and you know they will -- you need to be able to “deny ever saying anything like that,” and be able to accuse your interrogators of “twisting” your words and “taking them out of context.” Without a certified transcript of your original testimony, they'll be screwed. (Better them than you.)
- No oath means no perjury.
- No transcript means not having to “amend” your earlier answers to fit newly revealed “facts.”
2) Seek refuge in “The Fuzz Zone.”
If gambit #1 doesn't pan out, and you are forced to testify under oath, prepare well ahead of time. In particular spend some quality time with your attorney going over what “facts” are okay to remember and which you need to “forget.”
(Noteworthy: Since your attorney can never be forced to rat on you, this is one time during the process you need to break down and tell the truth. Your attorney can then help you decide which truths can free you and which will land you in the slammer should you “remember” them under questioning.)But you must deploy this tactic selectively to avoid damaging your credibility.
For example, let's say you are asked this kind of question:
“How long have you served as (insert your job title or position here)?Consider softball questions like that as an opportunity to prove your truthful nature by answering them honestly. Doing so will show that “you're not afraid of the truth.”
But, there are questions that you cannot answer truthfully without putting yourself in legal jeopardy.
For example, say you are confronted by a document key to the allegations against you:
“Your signature is on this document. Did you read it before you signed it?”Here is where to dive for cover in the “Fuzz Zone.”
“Yes, that's my signiture. But I sign a lot of documents during any given day. Aides prepare them, bring them to me, provide me a summary of what they involve and, unless something raises a red flag, I sign them. Some times I read them, but often I do not. I just scan them and sign them. If I read every document put in front of me all day that's all I'd get done. In this regard, while that is my signature, I have no independent recollection of this document.”
The Fuzz Zone, you see, is where memory “fails” you. It's your ultimate legal redoubt, a safe place where you can lie under oath with near complete impunity.
When asked a question that requires forgetfulness you gain entry to the Fuzz Zone with answers like this:
“I have no particular recollection of that meeting.”Shouldering Responsibility without Shouldering Guilt
“I don't recall that conversation.”
“I have no independent recollection of that.”
“I do not believe I said that.”
“I don't recall making that remark.”
“I have no memory of seeing that memo.”
If you were the head of an agency or organization at the time of the matter being investigated you can still enter the Fuzz Zone, but must do so with greater care. In particular you need to avoid answers that make it appear you are trying to avoid responsibility for things that happened under your command. When faced with a question where forgetfulness may lead to such suspicions, be proactive -- assume responsibility first, then “forget.”
“As the person in charge I take full responsibility for what happened. It was my responsibility to make sure such things don't happen, they did anyway, and I take responsibility for that. As soon as I became aware of this I took steps to assure they never happen again. But, having said that, I have no independent recollection of personally having anything to do with the events (meetings, memos, emails, orders, statements, etc) you mention.”
Terms like “no independent recollection” are particularly useful when the questions center on matters in which you suspect confirming evidence may exist or is likely to surface later in the investigation.
When confronted with proof of prior knowledge, you can go back to your original answer;
“I believe I testified that I had no independent knowledge. Of course, at some point I learned about it by reading of it or being told about by others. But until then, as I testified under oath earlier, I had no independent -- that is personal -- knowledge of the matter.”If asked who told you, you reply, “I don't recall.” If you want to get fancy you can throw that question back at the questioner;
“But if you know you know and can refresh my memory on that maybe we can move past this issue.”Such a reply, while appearing pretty checky under the circumstances, is actually a safe gambit, since you know that no one told you, that you knew all along – something your questioner can't prove.
How sweet is that? “I don't recall” -- the lie that cannot be proven. No one can look inside your head and prove or disprove the state of your memory. So say it as often as you must to keep your ass out of jail -- “I don't recall.” It's a dodge that, while it may wear thin with prosecutors, is the gift that keeps giving for the guilty.
3) The “You know I am precluded from answering...” Gambit
This technique only works if you can credibly claim to be in possession of state secrets or privileged executive matters.
When using this technique it is extremely important that you appear “pained” that you cannot simply answer the question. As you “struggle” with your response be sure to insinuate that your answer, were you free to provide it, would fully support your claim of innocence.
“Sir, there is nothing I would love more than to answer that question. But, as you know, I am legally precluded from doing so.”This technique, if properly deployed, not only protects inconvenient truths, but can recast you from suspected perp to hostage of circumstances beyond your control. (“If only I were free to answer...”)
A variant on this gambit is the “I can't answer that because it involves a matter that part of a pending investigation,” technique. This can be used by those of you involved some way in law enforcement or law enforcement agencies.
There are two “pending investigation” dodges.
1) “I can't discuss anything that's currently under investigation.'
2) “That's a part of a matter from which I am recused.
Those of you working in law enforcement, including the Dept of Justice, are in a prime position to employ this technique to your benefit. If you have prior knowledge that someone is fixing to put you under oath about something you'd prefer not being asked under oath, simply open an internal “investigation” into the matter. If that isn't enough, recuse yourself from that investigation too. Now you've erected two firewalls between having to decide whether to tell the truth and go jail, or commit perjury and go to jail. you and telling the truth.
4)Taking the Fifth
This is you last-resort gambit. When someone refuses to answer, “because it may incriminate me,” it's a surefire way to appear guilty as sin. So, use this gambit only when techniques 1 through 3 are unavailable to you.
Such circumstances may include:
- When hard evidence has already been presented that proves you did it.
- When your co-conspirators up the chain of command warn you that any reduced punishment you might negotiate in return for your testimony against them, will pale in comparison to what they'll do to you when they they get their hands on you.
- When your co-conspirators up the chain of command can credibly assure you that be “taken care of” in return for your silence.
Sometimes the truth will NOT set you free, quite the opposite. In such circumstances you need to avoid telling the truth as though your freedom depends on it... which it likely does.
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