Wikipedia Editors Censor Evidence Exonerating Michael Flynn

Former US National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn arrives for his sentencing hearing at US District Court in Washington, DC on December 18, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

On Wikipedia articles about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, editors have worked to exclude or downplay evidence cited by the Justice Department in support of dismissing charges that claim Flynn knowingly made materially false statements to the FBI regarding conversations with a Russian Ambassador. Such evidence includes FBI agents believing he was not lying and Flynn only pleading guilty after prosecutors threatened to go after his son.

Editors have also tried to slant Wikipedia content on the case and presented as fact false claims that FBI agents concluded Flynn was merely committed to his “lies” rather than believing he was telling the truth as he understood it. Some editors have dismissed the Justice Department’s claims by characterizing Trump’s DOJ as a “fringe” source.

Questions about the false statement charges against Flynn have been the latest controversial development this year concerning the Russian collusion investigation into Trump and his associates, which ultimately debunked collusion claims. A DOJ review conducted by U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen found undisclosed evidence suggesting the FBI interview of Flynn about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak on sanctions imposed against Russia served no investigative purpose in the probe, but was instead about getting Flynn to lie so he could be fired or prosecuted. Based on this and previous evidence, the Justice Department moved to dismiss the charges, setting off an ongoing legal battle as presiding Judge Emmett Sullivan took the unusual step of appointing an ex-judge to challenge the motion.

Amidst the court battle, Wikipedia pages relating to Flynn and his case have also been subject to a fight over what evidence favorable to Flynn should be mentioned. In late April, FBI notes prior to Flynn’s interview were revealed showing a senior FBI official asked of the planned interview, “What’s our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” One editor cited coverage about the notes in the Washington Post and NPR, both considered “reliable” on Wikipedia, to include in the intro to Flynn’s page concerns from Flynn and his lawyers about the FBI interview being a form of entrapment.

Travis Mason-Bushman, whose current account is “NorthBySouthBaranof” on Wikipedia, attempted to label these allegations “conspiracy theories” and otherwise downplay them. When this label was rejected, Bushman removed the paragraph. Mentioning the FBI notes in the body of the article was also rejected. When subsequent discussion appeared to show support, mention of the notes was restored, but the editor who added it agreed to remove it again after being threatened with sanctions by an editor who argued support was insufficient to find “consensus” for the material.

When another attempt to restore material about the notes to Flynn’s page was rejected, another discussion started. Left-wing editors argued the information was trivial or “fringe” and mockingly compared it to mentioning celebrity flatulence. After an attempt to add a section on entrapment allegations mentioning the notes was rejected, a prolonged discussion sought to resolve the dispute. Again left-wing editors stated the information was trivial with editor “Valjean” even arguing the narrative about the notes was “part of a cover-up” and insisted, “Nothing coming from Trump’s Justice Department, FBI, CIA, anything, can be trusted.” Valjean as “BullRangifer” was previously involved in slanting articles about the Russia investigation.

Discussion was formally closed as showing consensus to mention the pre-interview notes on Flynn’s page in connection with entrapment allegations, while rejecting previous wording as biased and excessive. However, when one editor implemented this decision, others argued over material on Attorney General Bill Barr characterizing Flynn’s interview as entrapment by adding that legal experts rejected this view with editor “Snooganssnoogans” stating it was necessary to offset Barr, whose tenure he claimed is “full of brazen lies.” The wording dispute got the section removed again until “consensus” could also be reached on the wording. However, a more anodyne mention of the notes did get included in the article.

Just as editors fought to exclude any mention of the pre-interview notes suggesting the interview of Flynn was about just trying to catch him in a lie so action could be taken against him, the fact the interviewing agents did not believe they had even succeeded in getting him to lie has also been kept out of articles on Flynn’s case. Editors repeatedly sought to mention FBI agents believed Flynn was sincere in denying any recollection of his conversations with the Russian Ambassador and were repeatedly rejected.

Editors such as Snooganssnoogans, who has a long history of smearing conservative figures and media outlets on Wikipedia including Breitbart News, argued in another prolonged discussion on mentioning the detail that the idea of being able to detect deception was “pseudoscience” and therefore editors were promoting “fringe” theories by mentioning the impression of the FBI agents regarding Flynn’s honesty. They further argued the detail itself was trivial, despite being cited in the Justice Department’s motion for dismissal and routinely brought up by Flynn’s lawyers. Months later, discussion on mentioning FBI agents believing Flynn had not lied has stalemated and gone undecided.

In the wake of the court battle over DOJ’s motion for dismissal, Wikipedia editors across multiple discussions decided to create an article on the case, having previously added new details to Flynn’s own page. This meant lengthy material on the case was trimmed at Flynn’s page and moved to the new article. Material on FBI notes prior to Flynn’s interview was one thing removed from Flynn’s page. Downplaying of exonerating material continued on the case article. One editor added to the new article’s intro that Flynn’s guilty plea only came after prosecutors began targeting his son, offsetting claims Flynn’s guilty plea discredited his subsequent claims of innocence, but this addition was removed as not significant enough to prominently mention.

Wikipedia editors have long slanted material about Flynn. Last year, an editor listed Flynn as a “convicted felon” in the first sentence of his article, putting it ahead of his service as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and as National Security Adviser. The label was eventually removed earlier this year. Since late 2018, Flynn’s page has also falsely claimed FBI agents concluded his apparent sincerity during his interview was “because he was fully committed to his lies” instead. When an editor tried to remove this as unsourced, an editor restored the claim about the agents citing a news article that actually attributed this view to prosecutors.

Such efforts at slanting material increased after the motion for dismissal. Left-wing editor “MrX”, a prolific presence on political articles, prominently added to the intro of Flynn’s page the accusation that the motion to dismiss showed Attorney General Barr’s “disregard for the rule of law.” The criticism was removed hours later. Another anti-Trump editor mentioned Flynn declined having a lawyer present for the interview, omitting that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe set out to discourage it. Editors also misrepresented the motion for dismissal on Flynn’s page by suggesting the Justice Department agreed Flynn lied, rather than not believing they could prove it, and repeatedly rejected corrections. Accurate phrasing, however, was added to the article on the case itself.

Biased treatment of Flynn’s case on Wikipedia is consistent with past bias on matters related to the Russia investigation such as editors purging sources critical of the Russia hacking allegations, slanting articles on the Ukraine controversy that led to impeachment, and censoring the alleged name of the whistleblower in that controversy who had previously been accused of Russia-related leaks damaging to the Trump Administration. It also corroborates criticism from Wikipedia’s co-founder about left-wing bias on the site, which has been relied on heavily by media, academia, and Big Tech.

(Disclosure: The author has previously been involved in disputes on Wikipedia with some parties referenced in this article)

T. D. Adler edited Wikipedia as The Devil’s Advocate. He was banned after privately reporting conflict of interest editing by one of the site’s administrators. Due to previous witch-hunts led by mainstream Wikipedians against their critics, Adler writes under an alias.

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