Toobin: Rudy's interview and Trump's lies create a crisis

Prosecutors have a venerable piece of advice that they often pass along to witnesses. "Always tell the truth," they s...

Posted: May 4, 2018 3:31 PM
Updated: May 4, 2018 3:31 PM

Prosecutors have a venerable piece of advice that they often pass along to witnesses. "Always tell the truth," they say, "It's easier to remember."

Of course, the main reason witnesses (and everyone else) should tell the truth is because it's the right thing to do. But the advice from prosecutors gets at a different point. Lies beget more lies, and more lies generate more confusion, and soon the lies cause more trouble than whatever caused the controversy in the first place. This phenomenon is at the heart of President Donald Trump's current legal problems.

Consider the matter of Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, who is now America's most famous adult film performer. She asserts that she and the President had sex once in 2006. Five years later, a supermarket tabloid recounted their alleged sexual encounter.

And five years after that, at the climax of the 2016 presidential campaign, Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer and fixer, arranged for a shell corporation to pay Daniels $130,000 for her agreement to remain silent about her relationship with the then-presidential candidate. To this point, the story is seedy but almost certainly legal.

The lies and omissions started almost immediately. As Rudolph Giuliani, the President's new lawyer, acknowledged Wednesday on Fox News, Daniels was paid because disclosure of her story on the eve of the election would have hurt Trump's chances. And who paid Daniels?

For months, Trump and his allies stonewalled -- that is, lied. Trump himself said he knew nothing about the payments,Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his press secretary -- presumably relying on the word of her boss -- said the same thing. Cohen himself put forward the implausible story that he paid the whole amount out of his own pocket as a reflection of his love for the Trump family.

Also on Fox Wednesday, Giuliani told an astonished Sean Hannity that Trump had indeed reimbursed Cohen for the payments to Daniels -- and he did so, according to Giuliani, in some peculiar and imprecise series of monthly payments.

Consider, alternatively, if Trump's team had told the truth from the start. He would have made a campaign report of a payment to Daniels, and that could have resulted in an embarrassing, but short-lived story.

Instead, the lies caused the Daniels fiasco to metastasize into a genuine crisis. Was there a campaign finance violation by Cohen -- or by Trump himself? Did Trump file a false financial disclosure report, or a false tax return, based on improper accounting for a gift? Did anyone (Trump or Cohen, for example) make a false statement to a bank in connection with this payment? And even now, do we really know who supplied the money to pay off Daniels?

Then of course there is the political (and moral) fallout of the falsehoods: why, now, should the public believe anything Trump says after he so obviously misled the public on this subject of wide public interest?

Trump's prevarications also made a mess of the even more consequential story of the firing of James Comey, the FBI director, in May of last year. The simple question of why Trump fired Comey has produced a still-changing collection of answers.

The White House originally said Comey was fired for mishandling the investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails. Then Trump himself told NBC's Lester Holt that the real reason was "the Russia thing" -- that is, to relieve the burden of the FBI's Russia investigation. (Trump apparently said a similar thing to a group of visiting Russian diplomats in the Oval Office.)

Wednesday, Giuliani offered still another explanation -- that Trump fired Comey because the director would not publicly clear the President in the Russia investigation.

Trump and his supporters have made the argument that the President had the right to fire Comey for any reason, or no reason at all. (This is legally questionable.) But surely settling on even a suspicious reason for firing Comey is better than the evolving story that the Trump camp has provided.

Multiple explanations succeed only in arousing suspicion -- which the President and his allies seem by now to richly deserve.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 730969

Reported Deaths: 13434
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1000031743
Lake53771970
Allen40668678
St. Joseph35733552
Hamilton35629408
Elkhart28577442
Tippecanoe22402219
Vanderburgh22310397
Porter18776308
Johnson17970379
Hendricks17244315
Clark12985191
Madison12673339
Vigo12449247
LaPorte11928211
Monroe11893170
Delaware10696186
Howard9924216
Kosciusko9410117
Hancock8284141
Bartholomew8070156
Warrick7784155
Floyd7669178
Grant7060174
Wayne7051199
Boone6700101
Morgan6576139
Dubois6156117
Marshall6050111
Dearborn581378
Cass5808105
Henry5720103
Noble561384
Jackson501773
Shelby491996
Lawrence4546120
Harrison435872
Gibson435492
DeKalb428485
Clinton427453
Montgomery424189
Whitley396139
Huntington391980
Steuben387857
Miami381866
Knox371990
Jasper366047
Putnam360760
Wabash354179
Adams341354
Ripley339770
Jefferson330981
White314354
Daviess297399
Wells291581
Decatur285492
Fayette280762
Greene278985
Posey271533
LaGrange266770
Scott266354
Clay260247
Randolph240781
Washington240732
Spencer232131
Jennings230149
Starke216654
Fountain212346
Sullivan211942
Owen200256
Fulton195440
Jay195130
Carroll189320
Orange183654
Perry183037
Rush173425
Vermillion169143
Franklin168135
Tipton162845
Parke146316
Blackford134932
Pike134334
Pulaski116845
Newton107834
Brown102141
Crawford99814
Benton98614
Martin89115
Warren82115
Switzerland7918
Union71010
Ohio56811
Unassigned0416

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1085733

Reported Deaths: 19441
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1261201400
Cuyahoga1124072120
Hamilton801491206
Montgomery515591014
Summit47292946
Lucas42275788
Butler38396584
Stark32412907
Lorain25046481
Warren24313300
Mahoning21629588
Lake20725369
Clermont19803238
Delaware18537133
Licking16436212
Fairfield16230200
Trumbull16082468
Medina15309264
Greene15099244
Clark14017299
Wood13113189
Portage12890203
Allen11675232
Richland11382199
Miami10686217
Wayne8843211
Columbiana8816229
Muskingum8815133
Pickaway8582121
Marion8539135
Tuscarawas8487244
Erie7917154
Hancock6929127
Ross6858155
Ashtabula6830170
Geauga6697148
Scioto6417101
Belmont5920167
Union571048
Lawrence5560102
Jefferson5544151
Huron5439119
Darke5364123
Sandusky5359121
Seneca5290121
Athens520058
Washington5160109
Auglaize491984
Mercer480885
Shelby470093
Knox4495110
Madison436661
Putnam4287100
Fulton423969
Ashland423189
Defiance421097
Crawford3978107
Brown395057
Logan382376
Preble379898
Clinton372963
Ottawa367479
Highland355662
Williams340275
Champaign333458
Guernsey316253
Jackson312652
Perry295350
Morrow285639
Fayette282250
Hardin271464
Henry269366
Coshocton265357
Holmes2611101
Van Wert243763
Adams238552
Pike237734
Gallia235949
Wyandot231555
Hocking215462
Carroll191647
Paulding173340
Meigs144940
Noble133337
Monroe132342
Harrison108537
Morgan108523
Vinton83515
Unassigned02
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