I’ve finished reading the entire Mueller report, and I must confess that even as a longtime, quite open critic of Donald Trump, I was surprised at the sheer scope, scale, and brazenness of the lies, falsehoods, and misdirections detailed by the Special Counsel’s Office. We’ve become accustomed to Trump making up his own facts on matters great and small, but to see the extent to which his virus infected his entire political operation is sobering. And the idea that anyone is treating this report as “win” for Trump, given the sheer extent of deceptions exposed (among other things), demonstrates that the bar for his conduct has sunk so low that anything other than outright criminality is too often brushed aside as relatively meaningless.
If I were to list all the important lies in the report, I’d be reproducing much of the report itself. So let’s focus on the most important elements. We already knew that Michael Flynn lied about his communications with Russia, George Papadopolous lied about his contacts with a person he believed to be connected to Russia, Roger Stone lied about his attempts to obtain information from WikiLeaks, Michael Cohen lied about Trump’s continued efforts to negotiate a deal with Trump Tower Moscow, and that Trump had repeatedly misled the American people about those same dealings.
We had previously known that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, had lied about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, a person the FBI has assessed as having contacts with Russian intelligence. But now we know the significance of those lies. They included covering up the ongoing transmission of internal Trump polling data to Ukrainians and a Russian oligarch, covering up communications about a proposed Ukrainian “peace plan” that would entail granting Russia a “backdoor” means for Russia to control eastern Ukraine. Moreover, because Manafort deleted messages and sometimes used “encryption applications” when he sent messages, we may never know the full extent of his communications — or his lies.
When asked about the Trump team’s contacts with Russia, key members of his campaign staff and administration responded with blatantly false statements. These statements may not have been deliberate (they could have believed internal lies and repeated them innocently), but they were nevertheless completely and totally wrong. Hope Hicks said, “It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.” When asked about any “contact or coordination” between the campaign and Russia, Reince Priebus said, “Even this question is insane. Of course we didn’t interface with the Russians.”
The campaign did, indeed, interface with the Russians — including in Trump Tower, when Donald Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with a Russian lawyer in the explicit hope of gaining dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Moreover, as the Russian investigation continued, the lies multiplied. One of the most banal and petty came from Sarah Sanders, who simply made up claims to help justify Trump’s termination of James Comey:
After FBI Director James Comey was fired, Sarah Sanders told reporters "countless members of the FBI" didn't support Comey and has lost confidence in him.
— NPR Politics (@nprpolitics) April 18, 2019
Trump himself of course got in the act. He famously edited Donald Jr.’s draft statement disclosing his Trump Tower meeting to disguise his real purpose, and — even more significantly — tried to order Don McGahn to lie to the public about McGahn’s claims that Trump had directed him to fire Robert Mueller:
Mueller: After telling McGahn to get the special counsel fired, Trump told McGahn to deny reports that he had done so.
McGahn also told Mueller that Trump scolded him for taking notes, saying, "Lawyers don't take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes." pic.twitter.com/4cdVfcm0ik
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) April 18, 2019
These lies have multiple consequences. First and most obviously, they demonstrate that the president’s word simply can’t be trusted. Yes, I know that there are readers who will immediately respond that “we already knew that” or that his dishonesty is already “priced in.” But don’t forget — as recently as last year, 76 percent of Republicans still believed that Trump told the truth “all or most of the time.” I personally know many people who believe that Trump’s ability to “tell it like it is” is one of his chief appeals.
Second, the extent of the lying across the Trump team shows that Trump’s lies can’t be contained to Trump. Even honest people who believe and repeat Trump’s words or the words of key members of his team can find themselves deceiving the public. Those who resist Trump’s efforts to deceive can find themselves overruled and publicly shamed. It was to Donald Jr.’s credit that his instinct — after news of the Trump Tower meeting started to leak — was to be transparent. It is Trump’s shame that he forced his own son to put out a misleading statement instead.
Third, the lies help demonstrate why the underlying investigation was so very necessary. When our intelligence agencies are aware of Russian efforts to interfere in the election and tilt it toward Trump, they know Trump officials are in contact with Russians, and they know that Trump officials are lying about those contacts, then it makes cries of “witch hunt” sound hollow indeed — especially when the actual results of the investigation demonstrate that the special counsel declined to prosecute multiple individuals who had Russian contacts, including members of Trump’s own family.
I’m old enough to remember the closing days of the 1996 campaign, when the Clinton administration was already beset by an avalanche of scandals. Bob Dole looked into the cameras and asked a pointed question — “Where is the outrage?” The same question applies today, but to a different audience. The lies are simply too much to bear. No Republican should tolerate such dishonesty.