By JACK SHAFER, POLITICO| The special counsel continues to expose the one talent shared by all the president’s men: They just can’t seem to tell the truth.
|AIWA! NEWS INTERNATIONAL|It will cost you about $100,000 to join Trump National Golf Club here in Washington. Plan on setting aside $200,000 to join his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach. But put your money away if you want inside Trump’s most exclusive club. The only way into Trump’s liars club is to shoot your mouth off for him.
The current membership includes criminal confessed liars, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who lied to Congress, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump policy aide George Papadopoulos, and former Trump campaign official Rick Gates, all of whom lied to investigators. In the Trump liars hall of fame, you can find Paul Manafort, who appears to have lied to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators after signing a plea agreement in which he promised honest cooperation. Jerome Corsi, whom investigators believe lied repeatedly to them about his role in seeking the WikiLeaks caches of Podesta emails, and stands to be indicted soon, could be a member in time for the holidays. (Corsi says he did not lie intentionally.) Meanwhile, long-time Trump advisor Roger Stone, implicated in Corsi’s lies, has zig-zaggedon questions about his knowledge on WikiLeaks’ inner workings and has repeatedly said he expects to be indicted. Donald Trump Jr. is a member by virtue of nepotism. But he may have earned his way in if he lied to Congress about what he knew about the Moscow deal. Junior, who had said the deal was long dormant, faces new legal exposure now that Cohen has admitted that the Trump Organization were developing a Trump project in Moscow until June 2016. (For an intimate look at Donald Jr.’s unique relationship with the truth, see this HuffPost comprehensive list of his memory lapses.)
The greatest of all the Trump prevaricators is President Donald Trump himself. He has lied so many times the Washington Post fact-checker would have an easier job chronicling the true things he says instead of the false. Faced with Cohen’s confession about the Moscow deal, Trump is now retreating from long-running assertions that he had nothing to do with Russian investments. As he departed for Buenos Aires on Thursday, Trump seemed to confirm the Cohen Moscow timeline, saying, “I decided not to do the project.” Again in a Friday series of tweets, Trump essentially conceded Cohen’s timeline, justifying the Moscow scheme. “Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia,” he wrote. In other words, all that lip music he sang during and after the campaign about being free of Russian encumbrances was—in the lying tradition of the Trump gang—a big lie.
This is the nightmare Trump faces now: One-by-one, his loyal liars have switched their allegiances to Mueller
Despite what he said about Cohen, his former fixer, whom he now considers “weak,” Trump finds no particular shame in lying—or in getting caught lying. As his biographer Timothy L. O’Brien wrote last year, Trump acknowledged 30 times under oath in a 2007 deposition that he had lied about a whole host of business-related topics. He even lied in his deposition (about his business relationship with mobsters).
The most damaging thing about Trump’s Moscow tower lies, as former CIA acting director John McLaughlin put it on Twitter, was that he might have fooled American voters with his falsehoods but not the Russian government officials his project was dealing with. “Russia knew all along when Trump was lying during the campaign in denying financial dealings with Moscow,” McLaughlin wrote. “The seeds of blackmail. More to wonder about re what was said during that private meeting w/Putin in Helsinki.”
If Trump lied about the Moscow tower, we should be safe to speculate that his statement about being in the dark about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son, Donald Jr., and the dirt-promising Russians was a lie, too, and that his insistence that Roger Stone never tipped him about coming WikiLeaks email dumps was also false. Stone, the Washington Post reports from draft court documents in the Corsi matter, spoke repeatedly by phone with Trump during the 2016 campaign. Did they talk about WikiLeaks? “It just didn’t come up,” Stone said. “I am able to say we never discussed WikiLeaks.” Given Trump’s abiding interest in WikiLeaks—he praised the organization at least five times in October and November 2016 during the campaign—and Stone’s obsession with the group, that’s impossible to believe.
Far from being accidental, the lies told by the Trump gang are premeditated, steered by the moral teachings of Stone, who insists you should “Deny everything.” Lying is the first option the Trump gang draws on because they’ve learned that in a credulous universe it provides an excellent defense against most comers. A foundation built on lies tends to erode, however, when subjected to the compare-and-contrast inspection of a government probe like Mueller’s. Armed with subpoena power and the threat of prosecution, an investigator like Mueller can separate the true from the false and call out the liars—as he has repeatedly—and turn them into his collaborators who can help lead him to the truth.
This is the nightmare Trump faces now: One-by-one, his loyal liars have switched their allegiances to Mueller (except Manafort, who, perhaps angling for a pardon, double-crossed the special counsel, and will be made to pay for his indiscretion as a warning to other potential double-crossers). “Cohen’s guilty plea cements the Trump Organization’s financial ties to the Russian state, deep into crucial phases of the 2016 election cycle,” writesformer federal prosecutor Ellie Honig for CNN. Cohen, Trump’s right-hand man for 12 years, reportedly spent 70 hours gabbing to Mueller’s people. We’re safe to speculate that all of that Cohen talk might eventually straighten out other Trump lies. The Cohen plea also knocked Trump’s legal defenders off balance, writes Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman, because it was made public just after the Trump defense delivered the president’s written answers to Mueller’s questions. If Trump’s answers don’t line up with Cohen’s version—which Mueller has presumably backed up with documents or other accounts—the president could face accusations of perjury. (Scandal mavens will recall that perjury was one of the two impeachment charges against Bill Clinton that made it to a Senate vote. The other was obstruction of justice.)
In a sharp piece this week, my former boss Garrett M. Graff explained that we need not await Mueller’s final report to glean the gist of his investigation. “Nearly every court document he has filed has been what lawyers call a ‘speaking indictment,’ going into deeper detail and at greater length than is strictly needed to make the case for the criminal behavior charged,” Graff writes. “With his major court filings, Mueller has already written more than 290 pages of the ‘Mueller Report.’” And he’s not done. In the coming week, Mueller is expected to release his magnum opus with sentencing memos for Flynn and Cohen. Mueller is scheduled to detail Manafort’s additional crimes and lies in yet another memo next week, as Matt Naham of Law & Crime reports. That memo, Naham writes, “represents an opportunity for Mueller to put together an extensive narrative on Manafort’s alleged untruths.”
Mueller’s filings have yet to demonstrate anything like collusion with the Russians, but if they come close to directly connecting the Trump campaign with the Kremlin, expect some of the most shrill, mendacious and creative fabrications yet from the president. On or off the links, nobody swings the liars club like Trump.
Jack Shafer is POLITICO’s senior media writer.