Lies and liars exposed but it's not a crime to lie to the people

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told prosecutors that the claims she made at the time of the FBI chief's sacking were "a slip of the tongue". Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was jailed for lying to Congress and other crimes.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (above) told prosecutors that the claims she made at the time of the FBI chief's sacking were "a slip of the tongue". Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was jailed for lying to Congress and other crimes.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told prosecutors that the claims she made at the time of the FBI chief's sacking were "a slip of the tongue". Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was jailed for lying to Congress and other crimes.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told prosecutors that the claims she made at the time of the FBI chief's sacking were "a slip of the tongue". Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen (above) was jailed for lying to Congress and other crimes.

WASHINGTON • Addressing reporters from the White House lectern, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made a startling claim shortly after President Donald Trump fired then Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey two years ago.

"I've heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the President's decision," she said, refusing to back down when pressed on the issue.

"Between e-mails, text messages, absolutely," she insisted.

It was not true. She later told prosecutors working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller that her comments were a "slip of the tongue".

It is a crime to lie to federal investigators or Congress, a lesson that many of Mr Trump's associates found out the hard way. Just ask former national security adviser Michael Flynn or disbarred former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen - they are among several who pleaded guilty.

But it is not a crime to lie to reporters and the American people.

The redacted, 448-page Mueller report released on Thursday exposed in voluminous detail how the Trump White House is comfortable not only spinning the truth, but also outrightly demolishing it.

Sometimes the President did the lying himself. Sometimes he had others tell lies for him. And sometimes people just lied because they thought it was required of them.

But not everyone around Mr Trump has been willing to lie on his behalf.

After an Oval Office meeting on March 22, 2017, the President asked National Intelligence director Dan Coats to say publicly that Mr Trump did not have any links to Russia, the report said. The claim would have been false, since Mr Trump had unsuccessfully sought to build a luxury skyscraper in Moscow while he was running for president.

Mr Coats declined, telling Mr Trump "it was not his role to make a public statement on the Russia investigation", according to the report.

Others also pushed back. When Mr Trump fired Mr Comey on May 9, 2017, he asked Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein to hold a news conference.

"Rosenstein responded that this was not a good idea because if the press asked him, he would tell the truth that Mr Comey's firing was not his idea," the report said.

But the report showed numerous others were willing to spread falsehoods on Mr Trump's behalf.

After the President fired Mr Comey, the White House issued a statement saying that Mr Trump had acted on a recommendation from the Justice Department.

But Mr Trump had previously decided to sack Mr Comey, and Mr Reince Priebus, the then chief of staff, told investigators he believed the President personally dictated the misleading statement.

Mr Mueller's report includes new details on how Cohen prepared his false congressional testimony about plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow. During those months in 2017, Cohen was in a joint defence agreement with Mr Trump, and he discussed his upcoming testimony with the President's legal team.

Cohen said the lawyer told him "the President loves you" and would have his back if he stayed on message. Unless Cohen "went rogue", he would be protected, according to the report.

A draft of Cohen's testimony was circulated among members of the joint defence agreement, and a key line about "limited contacts with Russian government officials" was deleted. Cohen had, in fact, spoken with a Kremlin office about the proposal.

Cohen told prosecutors he wanted to adhere to the "party line" by downplaying Mr Trump's ties to Russia, according to the report. He has been sentenced to three years in prison for lying to Congress and several other crimes.

Cohen told the special counsel's office that those lies were intended "to dismiss the idea of a substantial connection between Mr Trump and Russia". They were part of a "script", Cohen told prosecutors, that he developed with others - including the President himself.

DPA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 21, 2019, with the headline 'Lies and liars exposed but it's not a crime to lie to the people'. Print Edition | Subscribe