Since When Did Lying To The FBI Or Congress Become Not A Big Deal?
Yet since the indictment of once-Trump advisor Roger Stone on Friday, lawyers for almost everybody involved (or not involved) say all that happened is Stone might’ve lied to Congress, and if so, so what?
- Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow: “The indictment focuses on alleged false statements made to Congress”.
- Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani: “Another false-statement case? God almighty.”
- Stone lawyer Grant Smith: “This was an investigation they started as about Russian collusion and now they’re charging Roger Stone with lying to Congress.”
Now, we understand Trump’s people are just trying to keep the President at a distance from an advisor who had been close to him for decades, and therefore are trying to emphasize that lying under oath does not bring the investigation any closer to Trump.
At the same time, isn’t lying under oath to investigators something that should be taken with utmost seriousness? And not just tossed aside as “oh, that again? Or “God almighty.”
Doesn’t seem that way for this administration and the people close to it. (You know, Trump’s “best people”.) There’s always an implication now that lying doesn’t really count. And the people who seem to be telling the truth (as seems to be a common-sense conclusion to at least part of what Michael Cohen has been alleging, for instance), are the ones who are actually lying.
Stone’s lawyer also repeats a line that’s become very familiar if you listen to Trump’s folks a lot: that the lies were “immaterial” anyway. That’s arguing if the people you’re lying to already know the truth, then from a legal perspective, it doesn’t matter if you lie. We’re not lawyers, but whenever we hear this argument from lawyers, we always wonder: if investigators don’t already know the truth, how can they know if someone is lying to them?
Stone himself says he didn’t deliberately lie, or instruct others to lie. He just “honestly” didn’t remember the many, many, many communications he had regarding Wikileaks’ release of dirt on the Clinton campaign. And also telling other people to lie about it to Congress. And that’s why he misspoke when asked about it under oath. But if you look at the indictment filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, (that’s a link to the entire indictment, which isn’t that long and well worth reading), there were so many times he’s alleged to have done this kind of stuff, that it’s pretty hard to believe he simply forgot about it all.
They included directions to one thusfar unindicted Stone lackey to “do a ‘Frank Pentangeli’”. That refers to a character in Godfather II, and has been widely characterized in the media as a character “who ultimately avoids implicating another person in his own testimony before Congress.” But we remember the movie, and there’s much more to it than that. Pentangeli is about to refute a wide range of lies told with impunity to a committee by his rival, implicating him in numerous illegal activities, but Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino) gets to him by going after his family. And all of a sudden in front of a Congressional panel, he clams up. At any rate, this is such a specific instruction, it’s incredibly hard to believe it would slip the mind of the individual issuing it.
Stone is expected to be arraigned in Washington tomorrow. Never one to shrink from the spotlight, this should unfold interestingly, although many in the media are critical of all the attention Stone is getting for his antics, and they may be right. At the same time, he had kind of cornered the market on politics as vaudeville, long before Trump, although never had the same kind of draw.
We were surprised at the number of people we talked to over the weekend who’d never heard of Roger Stone before last Friday, or that he was Paul Manafort’s long-time business partner, or that he’s got a tattoo of Nixon between his shoulder blades on his back, as you can see from this Jeffrey Toobin profile that appeared in the New Yorker in 2008:
Maureen Dowd’s column about Stone in the New York Times this weekend is also pretty illuminating.
As a teen, Stone managed to somehow play a role in Watergate, and although that remains a moment of infamy in American politics, it helped launch his career as a sometimes effective, but always sleazy, noxious operative.
What’s Trump saying about it? He can’t quite go to his favorite line: that he barely knows the person, since there are many, many photos of him with Stone going back to the 1980s. Stone helped lobby for Trump’s casino business, and they were both acolytes of infamous New York attorney Roy Cohn. Instead, Trump tweets: “Roger Stone didn’t even work for me anywhere near the Election!”. And in this case the President is speaking the truth, kind of. He fired Stone in 2015, partly because he felt the political operative was trying to steal some his thunder. And overshadowing or acting more outrageous than Trump or even taking credit for strategies that might or might not have been yours, are all things that are guaranteed to get you on Trump’s bad side. At the same time, Stone remained a supporter of the Trump campaign, and either took it on himself, or as the Mueller indictment suggests, was still called on by high-ups in the Trump campaign when dirty deeds needed to be done.
Now, some analysts feel Robert Mueller’s decision to charge Stone with “only” lying under oath and witness tampering actually represents an effort to get him to flip and cooperate on what might be bigger charges involving other Trump campaign figures. Stone’s response is cryptic to the point of making no sense at all:
“If there’s wrongdoing by other people in the campaign that I know about, which I know of none, but if there is I would certainly testify honestly,”
The New York Times asks: “Trump advisers lied over and over again, Mueller says. The question is, why?”
We think the answer is simple: they’re either hiding things they did, or coordinating stories to protect someone else. If not, then why the hell lie to the F.B.I. and or Congress? There’d be no need to.