Just last week, a report from BuzzFeed suggested that President Donald Trump had urged his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie in testimony he gave to Congress, and that news set off a flurry of talk from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress that such an act — known legally as suborning perjury — would be an impeachable offense.
When the initial stir over the BuzzFeed report died down, Trump tried to claim victory, asserting that he had never told anyone to lie under oath. But not only is that untrue as it relates to Cohen, it’s an even bigger lie when it comes to the many times Trump has already told advisers and family members to commit perjury.
As Marcy Wheeler notes in a superb article she wrote for The New Republic, the instances of Trump’s suborning perjury are numerous:
“Trump has, in fact, repeatedly instructed subordinates to tell lies to Congress and law enforcement authorities, including lies that amount to crimes.
“Another important difference is the way in which Trump gets his subordinates to lie, which has served to delay the moment when we all admit that he is quite clearly suborning perjury.”
Now consider a few examples of Trump clearly ordering or encouraging others to commit perjury:
- September 2017: White House aide Stephen Miller — in close cooperation with Trump — drafted a memo laying out the reasons the president was firing former FBI Director James Comey. Since that letter was sent to Comey while he was still director of the agency, that was a direct lie to the FBI, a lie written by Miller and crafted with Trump’s assistance.
- January 2018: the New York Times reported “that the President dictated a short but accurate response to the … Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr.” That letter was tied to testimony Don Jr. gave to a congressional committee, so any lie Junior told was at the direction of his father.
How serious is suborning perjury? Even Fox News host Chris Wallace recently noted:
“It’s the kind of thing that can get you impeached.”
And it will indeed get Trump impeached, Wheeler concludes:
“A more basic law makes it a crime to ‘aid, abet, counsel, command, induce, or procure’ an offense against the United States, in which case that person can be charged ‘as a principal.’ In past presidential cover-ups, conspiracy to obstruct justice was charged. So Trump could be on the hook for the lies he encouraged his subordinates to tell, too, sometimes with the help of his lawyers.”
Just in case you’re interested, the penalty for each count of suborning perjury or directing others to lie is up to five years in prison for each offense. As much as Trump lies and urges others to do the same, he’s looking at hundreds of years behind bars.