Donald Trump
Credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/flickr

As of September, Donald Trump had told over 5,000 lies as president, according to the fact checkers at the Washington Post. But it’s not just that Trump lies, he creates a culture of lying.

Mr. Trump looks for people who share his disregard for the truth and are willing to parrot him, “even if it’s a lie, even if they know it’s a lie, and even if he said the opposite the day before,” said Gwenda Blair, a Trump biographer. They must be “loyal to what he is saying right now,” she said, or he sees them as “a traitor.”…

For decades, such behavior was relatively free of consequence for those who aligned with Mr. Trump. The stakes in the real estate world were lower, and deceptive statements could be dismissed as hardball business tactics or just efforts to cultivate the Trump mystique.

But in Mr. Mueller, those in Mr. Trump’s orbit now confront a big-league adversary with little tolerance for what one top White House adviser once called “alternative facts.” He leads a team of prosecutors and F.B.I. agents who are methodically and purposefully examining their words and deeds.

When Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump Tower Moscow, he said that he did so out of loyalty “because he did not want to contradict the president’s own false characterizations of his business dealings in Moscow.” In other words, Trump’s obsession with loyalty, combined with his constant lies, means that everyone in his administration is required to parrot his lies.

When news broke about Cohen’s plea agreement, the subjects referred to in this tweet garnered a lot of derision.

Responses to that tweet made fun of the idea that White House staffers didn’t know that they could be indicted for lying to Congress. But that doesn’t take into account the fact that Trump’s chief congressional enabler, Rep. Devin Nunes, interviewed many witnesses who came before the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors and then strategically chose the information to be shared publicly. According to David Lurie, congressional Republicans on the committee set the stage for witnesses to lie.

…the GOP appears to have all but openly encouraged its witnesses to deny any and all potential wrongdoing, regardless of the plausibility of their denials. Thus, the GOP members and their staffs appear to have been singularly uninterested in testing the veracity of witnesses’ testimony or even inquiring into elemental questions…

As a result, some witnesses affiliated with Trump and his campaign may have been lulled into thinking they could lie with particular impunity.

When ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff requested that the transcripts of those interviews be shared with the special prosecutor, Republicans blocked any attempt to do so. As a testament to the fact that elections matter, Schiff, who will become the chair of the House Intelligence Committee in January, has promised that releasing those transcripts to the Mueller team will be their priority on day one. So White House staffers who testified before that committee behind close doors and assumed they could lie with impunity have very good reason to be worried.

Trump enabler Alan Dershowitz claims that this is all about setting so-called “perjury traps.”  But either he, too, is lying, or he’s a really bad lawyer.

Though Trump regularly complains about Mueller’s style, there’s nothing unusual about prosecutors pursuing false statement charges to send a message and using their lies for cases against higher-level targets.

“This is what happened to the mob, this is what happened to the drug cartels,” [Duke University law professor Sam] Buell said.

Not to mention, he noted, past Washington investigations like Watergate.

To the extent that perjury traps were set, they originated in Trump’s culture of lies and the way his congressional enablers fed into it.

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