The art of the perjury trap
Studies will someday be done on the deleterious effect Donald Trump has had on the brains of people who loathe him. It drives them to say things that are as palpably foolish as some of the president’s own doozies. This week’s winner: There is no such thing as a “perjury trap.”The Flynn case and the Papadopoulos case both look like perjury traps. In both cases, it appears that the charges were an attempt to extort testimony against teh President in much the same way the Manafort case is an attempt to extort testimony. That has been the MO of the Mueller investigation and there is no reason to assume their attempt to question the President is in good faith. As Rudy Giuliani recently explained, they already know the answer to every question they propose to ask the President.
Because some of the people making this nonsensical claim are very smart, let’s stipulate that the heated moment we find ourselves in is driven by politics, not law or logic.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants to interview President Trump. President Trump’s legal team is taking the public position that, although the president wants bigly to answer Mueller’s questions, the lawyers are discouraging this because it could be a “perjury trap.” That is, Mueller’s prosecutors could be plotting to trip the president up, to dazzle him into saying something inaccurate that could be grist for a false-statements prosecution.
Of course, this drives Trump antagonists to distraction. They point out that the president says many things that are not just inaccurate but knowingly false. In maintaining that there are no perjury traps, what they are really arguing is that Trump does not need to be “trapped” into perjury; that his lawyers’ claims about Mueller’s treacherousness are a smokescreen to hide their real worry: viz., that Trump will lie in the interview because that is what Trump does.
If that is what they think, then that is what they should say. It’s a perfectly coherent position, especially if one is predisposed to believe that Trump is incorrigible, and that he conspired with Russia to steal the election, then obstructed the FBI in order to cover it up.
But it’s just silly to claim that perjury traps do not exist. It is an iteration of the overarching illogic that takes hold when a Republican — especially the incumbent Republican — occupies the White House, to wit: Presidents can be irredeemable reprobates, but prosecutors and investigators are pure as the driven snow, and to question their scruples is to undermine the rule of law itself.
Let’s take scruples out of it for a second. Hypothetically, let’s assume a world in which everyone acts in good faith. The flaw in the “there are no perjury traps” nostrum is that it takes two to tango.
... The Justice Department and FBI were so hot to make a criminal case on Flynn that they used the Logan Act — an unconstitutional blight on the penal code that has never been used to convict anyone in over 200 years — as a pretext to investigate him.
And what did they ask him about? Conversations of which they had recordings. Why on earth would it be necessary to interrogate someone — let alone a top government national-security official — regarding the details of conversations about which the FBI already knew the details? Why conduct an investigative interview, carrying potential criminal peril, under circumstances in which the FBI already knew (a) it was Flynn’s job in the Trump transition team and as incoming national-security adviser to consult with foreign counterparts and (b) Flynn had not floated any arguably corrupt quid pro quo to Kislyak (e.g., sanctions relief as a reward for Russia’s support of Trump’s presidential bid)?
We don’t know for certain that the Flynn interview was a perjury trap. But it sure looks like one....