“There’s been no collusion whatsoever,” Donald Trump reasserted at a makeshift press conference, in which he claimed to be “looking forward” to testifying “under oath” for Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Trump characterized his bravado as simply fighting back against the witch hunters, mocking those who would advise greater timidity in the face of a hostile investigation.
“You fight back, oh, it’s obstruction,” he quipped, not realizing just how prescient his little joke may prove to be. Because even if there proves to be no collusion, Trump and his cronies remain at risk for process crimes that arise out of how they conduct themselves during an investigation, regardless of whether or not there’s a crime at the core of the original case.
Consider that much of Mueller’s investigation had focused on an obscure 1799 statute known as the Logan Act, which makes it a crime to contact agents of a foreign government to influence or defeat U.S. policies. The law was passed by the Adams administration with the intent to subvert Thomas Jefferson’s presidential intentions, and many scholars insist that its unconstitutional. Regardless, no one has ever been successfully prosecuted for violation of the Logan Act, and it seems a pretty thin reed upon which to hang a presidential impeachment.
Testifying opens the door to an easy perjury charge
The precedent that ought to worry President Trump is the 2005 Valerie Plame investigation, which was launched to determine whether or not the Bush administration had leaked the covert status of an undercover CIA agent. In the end, no Bush administration official was found to have done anything wrong in regard to that initial question, but Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff, ended up getting convicted of Perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements. Libby had committed no crimes prior to the investigation, but his mistakes during the process are what got him in hot water.
Trump doesn’t seem to have learned anything from Libby’s mistakes, or perhaps he’s simply unaware of them. He doesn’t realize that lying and obstructing justice can still bring him down, even if he’s as clean as the driven snow on the question of collusion. His statements that he fired FBI Director James Comey in order to make his life easier over the Russia mess are likely to come back to haunt him, as are his statements to Comey about going easy on Michael Flynn.
Should Trump make good on his dare to testify under oath, he will expose himself to plentiful opportunities for perjury. Trump’s relationship with the truth has always been tenuous at best, and his breezy confidence of his innocence with regard to collusion is likely to loosen his tongue in ways that could easily blow up in his face.
That’s something the president ought to think about before he takes an oath he is either unwilling or unable to keep.
(Photo of Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. by Gage Skidmore)