Donald Trump has insisted, on multiple occasions, that he wasn’t told about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between top members of his team and some Russians. To hear the president tell it, he didn’t know about the meeting in advance, and he wasn’t briefed on it afterwards.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer, is reportedly prepared to tell federal investigators that the president lied about this. In fact, Cohen is willing to tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller that Trump was told directly about the meeting by his oldest son.
It’s difficult to say with certainty who’s telling the truth, but it’s amazing to see some of Trump’s allies question his word. Take Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), for example.
Issa was pressed by Fox News’s Neil Cavuto during an interview on whether Trump could face legal consequences if proof emerges that he knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting that was billed to Donald Trump Jr. as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Trump.
“If he’s proven to have not told the whole truth about the fact that campaigns look for dirt, and if someone offers it, you listen to them, nobody’s going to be surprised,” Issa told Cavuto. “There are some things in politics that you just take for granted.”
The retiring California congressman may not have meant to make such a bold declaration, but Issa nevertheless made it sound as if we should all more or less expect the president to lie about important details like these.
Similarly, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci yesterday, “Do you really find it credible that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort would have had this meeting where they were going to get all this dirt, allegedly, on Hillary Clinton for him to use against her, and they wouldn’t have told them about it?”
Scaramucci replied that it’s “possible” – a word he repeated four times – that Trump’s team briefed him on the meeting after it occurred.
Or put another way, even Scaramucci thinks the president might be lying.
And what if he is? What if top members of Trump’s political operation sought dirt from Russia in order to help win the election, Trump knew about it, and then lied about it?
The Atlantic’s Natasha Bertrand had a piece the other day noting that even if nothing of importance came out of the infamous meeting, the president’s willingness to deceive the public about it could carry legal implications.
Jens David Ohlin, a law professor and vice dean at Cornell Law School, said, “This reeks of a criminal conspiracy. It doesn’t even matter if nothing came of the meeting [although that’s far from clear]. If Trump knew about the meeting and was okay with it, Trump and those around him could be guilty of an inchoate conspiracy.”
Jed Shugerman, a Fordham Law professor, drew a similar conclusion in a piece for Slate, making the case that the president could be on the hook for conspiracy.
“The real problem for President Trump would be any subsequent conduct that might point to a conspiracy to defraud the United States or to obstruction of justice,” Shugerman wrote. “While ‘collusion’ might not be a crime under any federal statute, any collusive conduct by the Trump campaign could be prosecuted as a “conspiracy against the United States” under 18 U.S.C. Section 371.”
Darrell Issa believes “nobody’s going to be surprised” if we discover that Trump lied. Perhaps not. But that doesn’t mean the president’s possible deception is unimportant.