In a very real sense, being a liar has defined Donald Trump. It’s who he is. He’s been lying his entire life. Now he is trying to save his presidency with a blizzard of lies that exploit the disconnect between what happened during the election last year, when we learned about it, and how. It’s a strategy meant to confound and confuse not only with the sheer number of lies, but how they’ve been rolled out. The Trump strategy has been first to lie outright that his campaign had nothing to do with Russians whatsoever. When meetings with Russians were revealed, they explained them away with new lies, that the meetings were routine and didn’t mean anything. When the Russian contacts turned out to be real and substantive, they lied that the contacts didn’t amount to “collusion.” When collusion between the campaign and the Russians couldn’t be explained away, they created a wholly new line of lies, that it was Hillary who colluded with Russians through the so-called “uranium sale,” by financing the Steele dossier, which had sources . . . who were Russians.
Telling lie after lie after lie got Trump the presidency, but now panic has set in at the White House. Many of the people who have stood by while he lied, or lied for him, are being put under oath, and when you raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth, telling lies can get you arrested. Lying can put you in jail. Deciding whether or not to tell the truth when you’re under oath is why people in the Trump White House are hiring $1,000 an hour Washington, D.C. lawyers. It’s no fun at all. If you have any questions about this, ask former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who lied to the FBI, was arrested, charged, pled guilty, and is now cooperating with the investigation into Russian connections with the Trump campaign led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Let’s have a look at what we have learned in a single week. We already knew that the three top figures in the Trump campaign met with three Russians at Trump Tower in June, 2016. Last week the Papadopoulos plea deal revealed that the Trump campaign knew that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and “thousands” of her emails, in April of last year. Then we learned that Carter Page was put under oath by the House Intelligence Committee and admitted that he received permission to make his July 2016 trip to Russia from then campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and notified Hope Hicks, now the White House communications director, and Jeff Sessions, now Attorney General, of his trip.
Page also revealed that he had met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and reported back by email to senior members of the Trump campaign while he was in Moscow about “insights” he had gained during his meetings with high officials in the Russian government. Page also told the House Intelligence Committee that he had been informed that his fellow campaign adviser, Papadopoulos, had met in London and Rome with a “professor” with connections to ranking officials in the Russian government.
But for months and months we didn’t know these meetings had taken place, and that in all, nine men from the Trump campaign had met with Russians during the campaign and transition. We didn’t know in March and April of 2016 when Papadopoulos was running around London meeting with Russians. We didn’t know in June 2016 when Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner sat down in Trump Tower with a passel of Russians, including an attorney carrying a document from the Russian Prosecutor General. We didn’t know when Trump, Sessions, Manafort and others met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention last year. We didn’t know when Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner met with Kislyak and Russian banker Sergey Gorkov at Trump Tower in December 2016. And we didn’t know when Flynn called Kislyak on December 29 and told him not to worry about sanctions against Russia that had just been imposed by the Obama administration because they would take care of them after the inauguration.
This is the first time in history that the biggest scandal about a political campaign involves not illegal donations or scurrilous campaign ads or dirty tricks but contacts between the campaign and a foreign country hostile to the United States. We were buried by Trump’s blizzard of lies. They lied over and over and over again about the number of times they had met with Russians.
In July, 2016, at the time of the Republican National Convention, George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” asked Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, “Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?” “No, there are not,” answered Manafort, who had been copied on Papadopoulos’ emails about his meetings with the “professor” in London about the Russian government having “dirt” on Clinton and “thousands” of her emails, and who had attended the June Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer close to the Putin regime. “That’s absurd. And you know, there’s no basis to it.”
On the same day, Donald Trump Jr., who chaired the Trump Tower meeting with Russians, went on CNN and told Jake Tapper that Clinton campaign allegations about Russians helping the Trump campaign were “disgusting” and “phony.” Donald Trump Jr. went on to say, “That exactly goes to show you what the DNC and what the Clinton camp will do. They will lie and do anything to win."
In September, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Kellyanne Conway if campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page had been in contact with Russians. Conway, who was co-chair of the campaign while Page was still one of its advisers, answered: “If he’s doing that, he’s certainly not doing it with the permission or knowledge of the campaign, the activities that you described. He is certainly not authorized to do that.” (Page had reported to numerous campaign officials about his Moscow trip.)
During an October appearance at a rally in Florida, Trump out of the blue stated: "I have nothing to do with Russia, folks. OK? I'll give you a written statement."
In November, after Trump had won the election, Hope Hicks, who was at that time the campaign spokesman and who had been informed by Carter Page of his Moscow meeting with the Russian Deputy Prime Minister in Moscow, denied to the Associated Press that there had been any contact between the Trump campaign and Russians. “It never happened,” she said. “There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”
In December, Kellyanne Conway, who was working in the transition office in Trump Tower where Flynn, Kushner, and Kislyak had been meeting, was asked by John Dickerson of CBS News if there had been any contact between the Trump campaign and Russians. "Absolutely not," Conway said. "And I discussed that with the President-elect just last night. Those conversations never happened.”
At his Senate confirmation hearings to become Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who had been informed of the trip Carter Page made to Russia by Page himself, answered a question about Russia contacts this way: “Let me state this clearly, colleagues. I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.”
At a White House press conference on February 16, three days after Flynn had been fired for lying about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Kislyak, and only weeks after Flynn and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner had met with Kislyak in his own transition office, Trump was asked if anyone in his campaign had been in contact with any Russians. “You can talk all you want about Russia, which was all, you know, fake news, a fabricated deal, to try and make up for the loss of the Democrats and the press plays right into it. In fact, I saw a couple of the people that were supposedly involved with all of this — that they know nothing about it; they weren't in Russia; they never made a phone call to Russia; they never received a phone call. It's all fake news. It's all fake news.”
Asked by another reporter whether anyone on his campaign had contacts with Russians, Trump said: “No. Nobody that I know of. Nobody.”
The reporter persisted: “Can you just say yes or no?”
“Russia is a ruse,” Trump answered. “I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does.”
Four days later, then deputy White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Russia contacts with the Trump campaign “a non-story because to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place, so it’s hard to make a comment on something that never happened.”
On March 17 Donald Trump Jr. denied that he met with Russians during the campaign on campaign business. "Did I meet with people that were Russian? I'm sure, I'm sure I did," Trump Jr. said. "But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form."
In May, during his interview in the White House with Lester Holt on NBC, Trump said "there is no collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians."
In July, just days before the Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials including Donald Trump Jr. and Russians would be revealed, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "I would certainly say Don Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election."
On October 30, at her regular White House press briefing, asked about the Papadopoulos guilty plea, Sarah Huckabee Sanders pulled a White House Triple-Salchow with a double reverse twist, and landed the whole Russia collusion thing on . . . you guessed it . . . crooked Hillary: “It doesn’t have anything to do with the activities of the campaign. It has to do with his failure to tell the truth. That doesn’t have anything to do with the campaign or the campaign’s activities. There's clear evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding with Russian intelligence to spread disinformation and smear the President to influence the election," Sanders said.
She’s Trump’s spokesperson. She lies. It’s who she is. But she’s just the latest in a long string of liars for Trump, and she’d better watch out, or she’ll be following her predecessor Sean Spicer into a Capitol Hill hearing room or a grand jury in a drab building somewhere, and if you want to know what happens when they put you under oath and start asking you questions about Russians, you can ask George Papadopoulos. He knows.