Here is a transcription of the recently popularized voice mail from John Dowd to Rob Kelner, the attorney of Michael Flynn, from CNN's Transcript released of Flynn voicemail from Trump lawyer showing possible attempt to obstruct.

If I take the sentence in bold below and shorten and paraphrase it to get rid of the stylized and parenthetical voice messaging style of speech, I get If there's information that implicates the President, then we've got a national security issue we got to deal with, not only for the President, but for the country.

Question: Why does John Dowd state that if there is "information that implicates the president" that there is a "national security issue" that these two lawyers need to "deal with"? What would "dealing with it" mean in this case?

I'm only interested in answers that don't stray far from known facts. Opinions or pure speculation should not be posted as answers. Thanks!

Hey, Rob, uhm, this is John again. Uh, maybe, I-I-I'm-I'm sympathetic; I understand your situation, but let me see if I can't ... state it in ... starker terms. If you have ... and it wouldn't surprise me if you've gone on to make a deal with, and, uh, work with the government, uh ... I understand that you can't join the joint defense; so that's one thing. If, on the other hand, we have, there's information that. .. implicates the President, then we've got a national security issue, or maybe a national security issue, I don't know ... some issue, we got to-we got to deal with, not only for the President, but for the country. So ... uh ... you know, then-then, you know, we need some kind of heads up. Um, just for the sake of ... protecting all our interests, if we can, without you having to give up any ... confidential information. So, uhm, and if it's the former, then, you know, remember what we've always said about the President and his feelings toward Flynn and, that still remains, but-Well, in any event, uhm, let me know, and, uh, I appreciate your listening and taking the time. Thanks, Pal. (emphasis added)

The audio is available at CNN's Voicemail from Trump's attorney to Flynn's lawyer released and The Hill.

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    Asking why someone believes a particular thing is pure speculation, pretty much by definition. Unless of course that person has stated their reasons - then we get to speculate about whether they're being honest :-)
    – jamesqf
    Jun 7, 2019 at 5:10
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    @uhoh Well I don't know if it's that simple. That's certainly what I'd mess my drawers over. Was that, or something less hyperbolic but in the same vein, what Dowd was concerned about? I don't know. We can only speculate. Every time a President's gotten themselves into a bad situation we could probably find politicians and pundits talking about how dangerous that is. Would that suffice? Jun 7, 2019 at 5:56
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    @zibadawatimmy yes it certainly might. Perhaps you can avoid the launch codes and dirty underwear hyperbole and cite instead a specific instance or quote that illustrates the point? Thanks! Jun 7, 2019 at 6:01
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    This question is assuming some sort of legitimate basis for Dowd's call, instead of what pretty much everyone (including Flynn's attorney) agrees it was: a dangling of a pardon of Flynn if he refused to testify against the president. See the original 2018 story in the NYTimes. So the answer is: it was a pretext, pure and simple.
    – BradC
    Jun 7, 2019 at 16:07
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    @grooveplex I agree that I shouldn't have to, but in this particular case I chose to include an explicit reminder to try to head off overzealous question-closers who will vote to close anything that might be answerable with an opinion even if it can have fact based answers. In my roughly 2,000 questions posted in Stack Exchange I think I've included such a reminder only three or four times. Jun 8, 2019 at 21:55

2 Answers 2


The worry here is that there is blackmail material.

It's basically the same reason why homosexuals were barred from security clearances for many years. If a foreign power finds out that you have a secret that could be revealed to your detriment, then it would be possible that you would comply with their request rather than allow the secret to be released. And of course, once you've done it, they have a new secret that you don't want released. This is why the first request is usually something that seems reasonable but is technically illegal.

When homosexuals were in the closet (and possibly even legally barred from expressing their sexuality, depending on state law), homosexuality was a blackmailable secret. So homosexuals generally couldn't get security clearances.

Of course, a simple fix to this problem is to reveal the secret preemptively. Come out of the closet. Confess infidelity to one's spouse and reveal it to the public. Tell the vice-president that he misunderstood what you said. Release the domestic recording of the conversation with the foreign agent. Once revealed, the former secret is no longer a blackmail danger.

The big problem here is that presidents cannot be denied security clearances, even if they can't pass the security check. Appointees and members of Congress can be denied security clearances, but presidents and vice-presidents need security clearances to do their job. So they get awarded the clearance by the election rather than by passing a security check.


It's not just a blackmail issue as Brythan said. Personal secrets can compromise the president in other ways, without a direct blackmail threat. For example, a president trying to avoid the appearance of collusion with a foreign government might avoid making certain foreign policy decisions that would be beneficial to the United States. A president trying to hide an affair might not be as available as necessary in emergencies, or might give his mistress' recommendations undue weight.

A president trying to hide intelligence failures might use government force to retaliate against journalists. A president trying to hide certain communications might use insecure channels to do so, creating a vulnerability that compromises official communications. A president trying to cover up a crime might appoint unscrupulous people to key law enforcement positions.

There are lots of ways a secret can compromise a president without someone directly saying, "I will reveal your secret if you don't do this."

  • I fail to see how any of these things apply more to people with a secret than to people without it - A president will want to avoid the appearence of collusion even if there is no collusion, and thus no secret. A president might give his mistress' recommendations undue weight if everyone know she's his mistress, and he might give his wife's recommendations undue weight in any case. Presidents may retaliate against journalists to stop unfavorable coverage without any secret, etc.
    – sgf
    Jun 9, 2019 at 23:36
  • Yes, there are wider implications than simply the security risk. However, the security risk is the focus of this question. Can you restate your thoughts to directly answer the question?
    – jpaugh
    Jun 10, 2019 at 4:13

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