(CNN)Months before it was reported that fired former national security adviser Michael Flynn would invoke his Fifth Amendment protections rather than comply with a congressional subpoena, at least two top White House aides, President Donald Trump and Flynn himself all suggested that doing so was on par with an admission of guilt.
Mike Flynn is pleading the Fifth. Here's what Trump used to think of that
"You see the mob takes the Fifth," Trump said during a campaign stop in Iowa late last September. "If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?"
His target then: former Hillary Clinton aides who had done it during inquiries into her use of a private email server while secretary of state.
A source close to Flynn told CNN he would not provide the Senate Intelligence Committee requested documents, using his constitutional protections against self-incrimination to justify the decision.
The Fifth Amendment guarantees, among other things, that "no person shall be ... compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself."
The Flynn team's logic states that turning over the desired papers could, in effect, do just that.
Whatever you think of their decision, and no matter what it might suggest to an armchair analyst, the fact here is simple: Flynn is employing a familiar constitutional tool to protect himself against potential legal jeopardy. (Whether it applies to documents in the same way it does to spoken testimony -- the setting in which we typically see it invoked -- could be a point of contention.)
Flynn's decision brought to mind some less sober pronouncements by his old boss and colleagues. Trump in particular has a long record of dismissing the Fifth Amendment as a thin veil over criminal activity. He was especially harsh on Hillary Clinton when her former IT specialist called on the same rights as Flynn in response to questions about the Democratic presidential nominee's old email setup.
"@HillaryClinton IT specialist takes 5th over 100 times. #Trump2016 #fieldoffight #AmericaFirst," Flynn tweeted on June 23, 2016.
A day earlier, the future White House press secretary said about the same.
"125 times - thats how many times @HillaryClinton IT guy invoked the 5th to cover up her server scandal," Sean Spicer tweeted.
Months later, then-campaign manager Kellyanne Conway pounced when another pair of tech experts pleaded the Fifth during a congressional hearing.
"Birds of a feather. Basket of liars. Clinton's IT Specialists Plead The Fifth Before Congress," she tweeted, along with a video of the exchange with the House Oversight Committee chair, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
During a subsequent interview on Fox News, Chaffetz asked, "If this was just a mistake, why is it that everybody is pleading the Fifth and getting immunity deals?" (Flynn has offered to testify in exchange for immunity.)
It's a question Trump also pondered on the campaign trail.
"If you're not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for?" he asked during a September 2016 campaign rally in Florida, again taking a shot a Clinton ally.
To say past statements have come back to zing the Trump team understates the matter. For nearly every controversy or scandal to swamp the White House, there seems to be a past remark in which either Trump -- usually in a tweet -- or an associate can be found scolding a political opponent for having done the same or less.
How that weighs with the public going forward is anyone's guess. But given the administration's current issues, it probably ranks among the least of their concerns.