Several days ago I got into a rather vigorous discussion with someone who vowed that Hillary is by far the worse liar than Trump because she’s demonstrated that she’ll lie under oath (such as before the House Benghazi committee), but Trump won’t. Trump meanwhile will “only” lie to the public, but if you put him under oath, he’ll clean up his act.
The whole line of argument struck me as grasping at straws, but straws are all anyone’s got this election. Thanks to this fascinating Washington Post report, however, my friend may have to look for a new straw. It turns out that Trump is pretty darn slippery under oath as well. In 2007, he was subjected to withering deposition questioning, and he did not acquit himself well:
Trump had brought it on himself. He had sued a reporter, accusing him of being reckless and dishonest in a book that raised questions about Trump’s net worth. The reporter’s attorneys turned the tables and brought Trump in for a deposition.
For two straight days, they asked Trump question after question that touched on the same theme: Trump’s honesty.
The lawyers confronted the mogul with his past statements — and with his company’s internal documents, which often showed those statements had been incorrect or invented. The lawyers were relentless. Trump, the bigger-than-life mogul, was vulnerable — cornered, out-prepared and under oath.
Thirty times, they caught him.
Trump had misstated sales at his condo buildings. Inflated the price of membership at one of his golf clubs. Overstated the depth of his past debts and the number of his employees.
That deposition — 170 transcribed pages — offers extraordinary insights into Trump’s relationship with the truth. Trump’s falsehoods were unstrategic — needless, highly specific, easy to disprove. When caught, Trump sometimes blamed others for the error or explained that the untrue thing really was true, in his mind, because he saw the situation more positively than others did.
The pattern was familiar for any lawyer who has confronted a similarly cocky witness. It’s remarkable how many people will lie, and then — when confronted with evidence of the lie – immediately pivot to an transparently deceptive alternative spin. Take, for example, this exchange over Trump’s claims that he’d been paid more than $1 million for a speech:
TRUMP: I got more than a million dollars, because they have tremendous promotion expenses, to my advantage. In other words, they promote, which has great value, through billboards, through newspapers, through radio, I think through television – yeah, through television. And they spend – again, I’d have to ask them, but I bet they spend at least a million or two million or maybe even more than that on promoting Donald Trump.
LAWYER: But how much of the payments were cash?
TRUMP: Approximately $400,000.
LAWYER: So when you say publicly that you got paid more than a million dollars, you’re including in that sum the promotional expenses that they pay?
TRUMP: Oh, absolutely, yes. That has a great value. It has a great value to me.
LAWYER: Do you actually say that when you say you got paid more than a million dollars publicly?
TRUMP: I don’t break it down.
There’s a word that describes this kind of evasion. What is it? Ahh, yes . . . Clintonian. He says words that have obvious and plain meanings — like, “I was paid more than a million dollars” — then manufactures an entirely new meaning when confronted with contradictory evidence. But why the initial lie? Earning $400,000 per speech is extraordinarily impressive. But I suppose $1 million is truly yuuuuge.
Trump seems to lie as easily as he breathes. Yes, he inflates his own accomplishments, but that’s not the only reason he lies. He lies to cover ignorance, to win debates, and to make news. He’ll like just because he wants to. In short, much like his Democratic competitor, he says and does whatever advances his perceived self-interest in the moment — often without regard to foreseeable, relatively immediate blowback.
It’s remarkable the extent to which the battle between Clinton and Trump isn’t a battle over their perceived qualities, but rather their manifold flaws. Few people ask which candidate is “better.” Instead, the question is which person is worse. And in the battle over honesty, the contest appears to be a draw. They’re the Steph Curry and LeBron James of lies — different in style but relatively equal in accomplishment. America may never again see their like.