Politics

Swamps and perjury traps and Trumps, oh my!

For the record, it’s also not “done all the time” in politics. In 2000, Al Gore’s campaign was sent George W. Bush’s debate prep materials—stolen materials. Gore didn’t seek them out, and he didn’t take a meeting or send his top guys to a meeting in order to receive it. What did he do? I’ll let Al tell you: “We immediately turned it over to the FBI.” And no, he doesn’t deserve special credit for following the law: that’s what anyone seeking the highest office in our democracy must do. It is, however, the opposite of what the corrupt Donalds did.

So many lies. And that brings us to our next topic, which really is the same topic, given that we’re talking about the liar-in-chief. The lawyers who work for Mr. 46 Percent of the Popular Vote have been warning all week that they won’t let their boss fall into a “perjury trap” in any conversation between Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller that they deign to allow. Rudy Giuliani—who has shown himself in recent weeks to be an almost absurdly bad advocate for his client—said that Mueller wants to “trap [Trump] into perjury.”

What does this term “perjury trap” even mean? Here’s a definition drawn from a University of Pennsylvania Law Review article:

A perjury trap is a legal situation in which a prosecutor calls a witness to testify with the intent to base a perjury charge on their statements, not to indict them for a previous crime.

Here’s another definition, this one from Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor:

“[P]erjury trap” is a specific legal defense, related to entrapment. A claim of a perjury trap is really a claim of prosecutorial misconduct. It refers to an abuse of the legal process, whereby a prosecutor subpoenas a witness to testify not for a legitimate investigative purpose but to try to catch him in an inconsistency or falsehood — even a relatively minor one — that can then trigger a perjury charge.

Clearly, that is not what Bob Mueller is doing here. Mueller is investigating serious crimes, and is asking Trump to speak with him under oath (an “interview” such as the one being negotiated here is, for all intents and purposes, the same as testimony) to find out whether he committed obstruction of justice or participated in a conspiracy relating to the well-documented Russian government meddling in the 2016 election. The classic perjury trap was, as Jonathan Chait noted, sprung on Bill Clinton by Ken Starr—who asked Clinton about a non-illegal act, one that had nothing to do with any other potential criminal acts he was investigating. Starr asked Clinton about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, which Clinton denied, thus committing perjury.

From a strategic perspective, it’s impossible to understand how Trump’s lawyers and his allies in the media think that talking about perjury helps their client, when it only reminds everyone that Trump literally can’t be trusted to avoid lying—even under oath. One Fox News host actually asked this question on the air:

“How in the world could he ever cooperate and sit down with Mueller for an interview knowing that if you tell one lie to Bob Mueller, he will move to file charges?”

After you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor, think back to all those movies you’ve seen where every witness who testifies puts their hand on a Bible and swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, “So help me God.” The. Whole. Truth. So yeah, Trump, that’s what you’ve got to do too. Is that really so fucking hard?

If Mueller acted like Ken Starr and started, for example, asking Trump about his many, many, many extramarital affairs, then that would be a perjury trap, and I would be the first one to say that any attempt to use a denial of an affair as the basis for a perjury charge should be rejected. That’s not what we can expect Mueller to do.

Giuliani has said that there are two areas he won’t let Mueller ask Trump about: his firing of then-FBI Director James Comey, and his conversation with Comey about the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Presumably, those are the areas the Trump team is most concerned about when it comes to perjury (and more broadly). Asking about those areas is absolutely not any kind of illegitimate perjury trap. Here’s more from Chait:

Asking Trump about his attempt to manipulate his FBI director is not a perjury trap. The question is not extraneous to a crime, it is a crime. He was very consciously attempting to stop an investigation into his administration. The mere fact that his lawyers are discussing it well in advance indicates that the subject matter is not a perjury trap, because the “trap” aspect involves the witness not knowing beforehand that the question is designed to produce a lie.

Furthermore, as the aforementioned Randall Eliason noted: “No objective observer could claim Mueller does not have a legitimate investigative reason to interview Trump. Trump was, of course, the head of his campaign and is therefore a key witness on all issues related to possible Russian interference and collaboration.”

Look, I’ve taken this discussion of perjury traps seriously thus far, but here’s the thing: it’s also patently ridiculous. There’s no such thing as a perjury trap for people who tell the truth. The problem for Donald Trump is that he is not such a person. Stephen Colbert nicely tied together our first two topics in his discussion of the perjury trap business by pointing out that Trump’s “most glaring lie” so far might well be contained in the aforementioned tweet—namely, the notion that Trump Jr. is “wonderful.” So thanks for that, Stephen.

On to our third topic, Trump and the swamp. Republican New York Rep. Chris Collins was previously best known for being the first member of Congress to endorse the presidential campaign of the current president, way back on February 24, 2016. Collins has remained very close to Trump since that time, having served on the transition team and attending numerous lunches at the White House— apparently he gets to sit right next to the Orange Julius Caesar himself. On a side note, you might remember that he’s the one who said this about Trump’s rich man’s tax cuts:

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Clearly, Chris Collins is a man of principle. Now he is best known for something else, namely being indicted for insider trading. And, in a simply perfect confluence of events, check out where he broke the law:

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Trump went on and on about how he was going to “drain the swamp.” Please. Based on what Collins did, the White House is, in geographic terms, the exact center of the swamp. The truth is that Trump and the people who flock to support a con man like him are the epitome of the swamp. So are the people who go to work for him, corrupt swamp-creatures like the disgraced Tom Price and Scott Pruitt—two Trump Cabinet members both forced to resign because of their corruption. A third, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, apparently couldn’t be bothered to come up with a complicated illegal scheme. Instead it looks like he just directly stole money from around 20 people—to the tune of at least $1 million each. And that’s just a few of the many, many, Many-a-fort (sorry, couldn’t resist), instances where high-level Republicans demonstrate that they are, in fact, corrupt creatures of the very swamp Trump will never drain.

Now let’s relate this to electoral politics. Here’s something Nancy Pelosi said in 2006—the last time the Democrats took the House of Representatives away from a thoroughly corrupt Republican Party:

“You cannot advance the people’s agenda unless you drain the swamp that is Washington, D.C.,”

Democrats are rightly making that same argument again this year, as our own Kerry Eleveld explained in her analysis. Here’s Pelosi, 2018-style:

“The brazen corruption, cronyism and incompetence of the Trump Administration is reflected in the conduct of House Republicans. [The Republican Congress is] a cesspool of self-enrichment, secret money and special interests.”

Rep. Devin Nunes’ recorded comments state directly what should already have been obvious: House Republicans are so politically corrupt that they will do anything they have to in order protect their leader—period, regardless of whatever any investigation uncovers. The connection between all the different aspects of Republican corruption we’ve seen is that they reveal a commitment to no principle, no morality, no code of ethics. Their only commitment is to holding on to power—which so many of them use to pad their own pockets.

Anyone who has watched Donald Trump with an objective pair of eyes knows exactly what he is, and what he always has been. Separate from his long history of race-baiting, he’s also a liar, a cheat, and a crook. And those are exactly the kind of people drawn to serve him.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of Obama’s America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity (Potomac Books).




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