There is a regular pattern to Trump administration lies. First, deny everything. Then when the facts come out that the denial is a lie, deflect and attempt to shift blame to others. Finally, when more facts come out to prove the deflection is a lie, diminish the lie by admitting that “Yeah we did it, but so what? What’s the big deal?” The important fact here is that every step is a lie and an effort to mislead. The truth is never seriously considered.
We have seen this play out with the Trump campaign’s meeting with Russian operatives last June. At first, everyone denied that they ever met with any Russians. Then when the facts came out that they did, they attempted to deflect by claiming they did not know what the meeting was about beforehand and it turned out to be a “nothingburger” about Russian adoptions. Then when the facts revealed that the participants were disclosed and that the subject of the meeting was revealing dirt on Hillary Clinton, the narrative shifted to “Yeah we did it, but so what? What’s the big deal?” Trump sycophants like FAUX News even went so far as to argue that collusion with the Russian government is not a crime (foreign contributions — including “in kind” contributions of opposition research — does, in fact, violate federal campaign laws).
Rinse, lather, repeat.
When the Trump campaign meeting with Russian operatives was revealed, Donald Trump Jr. issued a statement that left out key details (lies by omission) and sought to deflect with the Russian adoption cover story (lies by commission). The Washington Post reported last week that Trump dictated son’s misleading statement on meeting with Russian lawyer:
On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.
The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.
But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed.
Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”
This, of course, was a lie.
Over the next three days, multiple accounts of the meeting were provided to the news media as public pressure mounted, with Trump Jr. ultimately acknowledging that he had accepted the meeting after receiving an email promising damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.
The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.
The president’s lawyer went on the Sunday morning bobblehead shows and swore up and down that the president had nothing to do with drafting Donald Jr.’s false and intentionally misleading statement. “The president was not — did not — draft the response,” Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow said on “Meet the Press” in an interview July 16. (While it is not a crime to lie to the media, a lawyer does violate the professional code of ethics for lawyers by doing so and can face an ethics complaint).
This flat denial by Trump’s lawyer did not stand up to scrutiny, so the Trump administration offered weak deflections before White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders finally admitted that White House says Trump weighed in on son’s Russia meeting statement ‘as any father would’ (well, maybe in the Trump family, where lying is a family value and a necessary prerequisite to being a grifter and a con man):
The White House defended President Trump’s involvement in issuing a statement about his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign, saying that the statement was true and that the president was simply acting as a father.
“The statement that Don Jr. issued is true. There’s no inaccuracy in the statement,” said incoming White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “The president weighed in just as any father would based on the limited information that he had.”
“This is all discussion, frankly, of no consequence,” Sanders added.
The comments seem to confirm that Trump participated in the drafting of the statement on Air Force One and contradict past statements from Trump’s attorneys denying that he had any involvement.
While Sanders denied that Trump “dictated” the document, she acknowledged that he “weighed in and offered suggestions” on a statement that claimed that in the meeting, Trump Jr. and other participants “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.” That statement turned out to be misleading.
Emails obtained by the New York Times and subsequently released by Trump Jr. later showed that the meeting was pitched to Trump’s son as one about derogatory information about Hillary Clinton. That disclosure prompted Trump Jr. to correct his public statements.
Donald Trump himself repeated the bogus cover story about Russian adoptions when he discussed his previously undisclosed meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G 20 summit. Excerpts From The Times’s Interview With Trump:
TRUMP: [Melania] was sitting next to Putin and somebody else, and that’s the way it is. So the meal was going, and toward dessert I went down just to say hello to Melania, and while I was there I said hello to Putin. Really, pleasantries more than anything else. It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes. Just talked about — things. Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption.
HABERMAN: You did?
TRUMP: We talked about Russian adoption. Yeah. I always found that interesting. Because, you know, he ended that years ago. And I actually talked about Russian adoption with him, which is interesting because it was a part of the conversation that Don [Jr., Mr. Trump’s son] had in that meeting. As I’ve said — most other people, you know, when they call up and say, “By the way, we have information on your opponent,” I think most politicians — I was just with a lot of people, they said [inaudible], “Who wouldn’t have taken a meeting like that?”
Trump just contradicted his own cover story by admitting the subject matter of Donald Jr.’s meeting was known beforehand. His campaign would not have taken a meeting about Russian adoptions to be sure. (It also leaves open the possibility that Trump and Putin devised the Russian adoption cover story together in their private meetings).
Richard Painter, former White House ethics lawyer under president George W. Bush, says Trump helping his son draft a misleading statement could be witness tampering:
Former chief White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter says President Donald Trump may be in legal jeopardy for his role in drafting a misleading statement on behalf of his son.
Painter told Salon that Trump’s involvement with the misleading statement only compounded his problems.
“The biggest exposure is obstruction of justice,” Painter wrote in an email. “He is already in hot water for that because of the [James] Comey firing and his admission that it was about Russia.”
While Painter acknowledged that lying to the public was not necessarily a criminal offense, he said Trump’s intention in writing the statement could trigger criminal charges.
“A misleading statement — even a lie — told to the press or to the public is not itself a crime,” Painter said, “but he must have known that his son and others would be called to give evidence in the criminal proceeding. Once he drafts a public statement that he knows is false, he is boxing them in when they talk to [Robert] Mueller, testify before Congress and at trial, or at least he is attempting to do so. That is obstruction of justice, witness tampering.”
Sean Illing at vox.com asked 12 legal experts if the latest Trump-Russia news showed obstruction of justice:
I reached out to 12 law professors and asked them about the potential legal implications of [the Washington Post] report. In particular, I wanted to know if this advances the obstruction of justice case against President Trump.
The overwhelming consensus is that if Trump did dictate false statements about his son’s meeting in order to deceive the public and throw off investigators, it would add to a “growing mountain of evidence” that points to a broader cover-up. As Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan, put it: “It’s another brick that could someday be part of a wall that proves obstruction of justice.”
It would also, according to the Associate Dean of Yale Law School Asha Rangappa, “expose everyone who was present to questioning by Mueller’s team about what they saw and heard during that discussion.”
Here is one succinct response from this report from Asha Rangappa, associate dean, Yale Law School:
Ordering subordinates to lie in an ongoing federal investigation can indeed be grounds for obstruction of justice, and an agreement to go along with such a policy could be a conspiracy to obstruct or defraud the United States. However, in my experience, an FBI agent’s best friend in these circumstances is 18 USC 1001, which makes it a crime — even if you are not under oath — to knowingly misrepresent a material fact in any matter within the jurisdiction of the government of the United States.
False statements and obstruction of justice can often go hand in hand, but from a prosecutor’s point of view it’s easier to prove false statements because you only need to show that the person acted “knowingly and willfully,” rather than “corruptly,” which is the intent requirement for obstruction (and harder to prove). Also, it’s pretty easy to catch someone in a lie. Usually, all the FBI needs to do is simply show up (often unexpectedly), and start asking questions, and sooner or later the subject — particularly one who is, say, trying to protect their boss — will dig themselves into a hole.
What the president has done in allegedly dictating a false statement about his son’s meeting with the Russians is to expose everyone who was present to questioning by Mueller’s team about what they saw and heard during that discussion. If they lie and get caught, they’ll be looking at jail time: Each false statement carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, and those can add up quickly. At that point, Mueller will have the leverage to offer immunity from prosecution if they provide information on other topics or individuals of interest to him in the Russia investigation. In short, a “policy of dishonesty” within the White House would be an investigative jackpot for Mueller and the cases he is building, and if there is such a policy, the latest news gives him yet another chance to exploit it.
CBS News reports that Congressional investigators want phone records related to Trump Jr. Russia meeting:
Congressional investigators are interested in obtaining phone records pertaining to Donald Trump Jr.’s June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer, CBS News has confirmed.
CBS News’ Jeff Pegues reports that a congressional source says there is “high interest” in obtaining cell phone records and phone records in general around the meeting, which Trump Jr. had agreed to because he had been led to believe that the lawyer had damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
And there is also interest in the email accounts of all of those involved in the meeting. In addition to Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort also attended the gathering. A congressional source says “we want all relevant documents” connected to the people in the meeting. Investigators would want to know all that was discussed between the parties, before, during and after the meeting.
Interest in that meeting has increased, a day after the. For weeks Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and the White House denied that the president had anything to do with the statement which was attributed to Donald Trump Jr. There was also no effort apparent effort to correct the record.
The evidence for obstruction of justice charges continues to come together. Trump can’t stop himself, and he will only continue to add to his legal problems.