Why Trump’s directing Cohen, others to lie would be far worse than Watergate

By | January 18, 2019


Ryan Goodman writes:

If the President of the United States directed his personal attorney and fixer to help sabotage the Russia investigation by lying to Congress, there is no turning back for the nation. Given the independent corroborating evidence that special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly has to show that’s what the president did, things are only going to get worse for the White House from here.

Cohen’s lying to Congress (and to the Special Counsel’s Office) was not only about covering up a secret deal with the Kremlin during the heart of the campaign, a deal that potentially even included an illegal payoff for Putin personally. It was also a direct hit on the Russia investigation itself. The Special Counsel told the court that Cohen’s lies to both Congress and the Special Counsel were “intended to limit ongoing investigations into Russian interference in a U.S. presidential election, and the question of any links or coordination between a campaign and a foreign government.”

What makes the Cohen lies even worse—and yes, far worse than Watergate—is that it exposed any U.S. officials who were involved in orchestrating his false testimony to blackmail by Russia. As Barbara McQuade, former U.S. Attorney and professor at the University of Michigan Law School, wrote at Just Security, “in the context of counterintelligence investigations, lies can also compromise national security….A foreign adversary like Russia can use lies as leverage over government officials to coerce them into complying with its demands or else face exposure of the lies.” As former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified in the context of Flynn’s lying about Russian contacts, “To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.” If Trump suborned false statements, the President would have exposed not only himself to Kremlin blackmail, but also other members of his team who, according to court documents and reporting, helped orchestrate his personal lawyer’s congressional testimony.

Take a step back and you can see how the national security dimensions of “RussiaGate” are what distinguish the case and, in many respects, makes it far worse than the case for Nixon’s or Clinton’s impeachment.

It is also, as with Nixon’s bad acts, an easy case on the law when it comes to a president’s suborning false statements and obstruction of justice. Even William Barr, the man nominated for attorney general with extreme views of presidential power, has written and testified (see exchanges with Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Amy Klobuchar) that suborning perjury or inducing a witness to change their testimony is a criminal act for which no presidential power protects it. And in an op-ed in 2017 titled, “No One Is Above the Law,” staunch Trump defender, Alan Dershowitz wrote, “If a president’s actions, on the other hand, are unlawful—as President Nixon’s clearly were when he told subordinates to lie to the FBI and pay hush money—good intentions … would not be a defense. For purposes of the criminal law, presidents must be judged by the lawfulness or unlawfulness of their acts.” [Continue reading…]

 

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