For Trump, It’s Hard to Lie Without Obstructing Justice

Does this strike you as the tweet of an innocent man?

If, as he keeps telling us, there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians, and the Steele Dossier is a made-up hatchet job, then he shouldn’t be worried about the release of Glenn Simpson’s testimony. If he’s confident that Diane Feinstein agrees that there was no collusion, then he shouldn’t question her motives. And if he’s legitimately worried, he shouldn’t let us know he’s worried.

On every level, this tweet is a mistake. It demonstrates a complete consciousness of guilt and reveals open irritation that his efforts to misconstrue the dossier have been so solidly undermined. It shows that he was depending on Chuck Grassley to keep the testimony hidden from the public even as he and Sen. Lindsey Graham made a criminal referral against Steele to the Department of Justice.

One way of looking at this is that an obvious effort to obstruct the public from knowing the facts of this case has failed. That’s somewhat different from trying to prevent the FBI or the special counsel’s investigators from learning the facts of the case, but it’s the same basic instinct. There doesn’t seem to be a clear dividing line for Trump between these two things, which was obvious from the outset of his administration. When Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed White House Counsel Don McGahn that Michael Flynn had lied to Vice President Pence about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, McGahn initially did not understand why it should concern the FBI when one member of the administration lied to another member of the administration. For McGahn, if the vice president was giving bad information to the public, that was just politics and not a legal matter. Yates had to explain that the Russians knew the truth and had documentary evidence to prove it. Lying of this type could expose Flynn and the administration to blackmail.

This is how ethically challenged people can imperil our national security as well as inadvertently commit acts of obstruction of justice, as when Trump crafted a dishonest public response to the revelation that his son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman had met with Kremlin-connected Russians in Trump Tower. He thought he could lie to the public without legal consequences. Mark Corallo, the spokesman for President Donald Trump’s private legal team, disagreed with Trump’s judgment on that, and quietly resigned rather than being a party to what he perceived as a crime.

Just ask yourself this question: if Flynn could be blackmailed because what he was saying both privately and in public could be easily disproved by the Russians, then what does it mean that Trump continues to lie about things like Glenn Simpson’s testimony that was easily disproved by Diane Feinstein? Might she not have merely threatened to release the transcript in exchange for something of value?

This is why lying is a problem even when it isn’t obviously illegal.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.