At Some Point Trump’s Denials Are about Criminal Defense, Not Just Denial

After hanging out with Vladimir Putin informally in Da Nang, Donald Trump again said he believes Putin’s denials that he interfered with the election.

“He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One as he flew from Da Nang to Hanoi in Vietnam. Trump spoke to Putin three times on the sidelines of summit here, where the Russia meddling issue arose.

“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,'” Trump said. “And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”

“I think he is very insulted by it,” Trump added.

This has the chattering class horrified, again, about what this does for the intelligence community.

That’s all true, but I think this is about more than Trump preferring the analysis of an old KGB spy.

As this NYT story released last night makes clear, the Mueller investigation is closing in on Trump’s close aides, including Stephen Miller and (as I’ll point out later) Jeff Sessions. I have reason to believe something will be announced in the very near future that will blow the investigation wide open, in ways that may directly implicate the President.

But, as I’ve said repeatedly, the Russian operation built in multiple levels of deniability, not just the WikiLeaks cut-out. So it may be that whatever actions personally implicate Trump involve enough deniability he will be able to claim — or try to — that he didn’t know the actions he took involved working directly with the Russians.

In other words, at some point these repeated public claims aren’t about trusting Putin over his intelligence community. They’re about mounting a criminal defense.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

42 replies
    • orionATL says:

      no! no! no!

      no impeachment.

      democrats need trump to stay at least until nov, 2018. that is an imperative.

      pence is a resistence killer.

        • orionATL says:

          i understand, but i think its one or the other, we may not be able to have a pence presidency and a democratic house and senate to pass new law and secure old reforms being daily obliterated.

          whatever happens – none of it is in our hands.

          • NorskieFlamethrower says:

            If Trump is impeached Pence will go at the same time leaving the line of succession to the Speaker of the House, that is why we need impeachment to be after the Dems take the House back. I think that the Rethugs in the Republican Party and a lot of old Clinton Dems want to see the Orange One dumped before 2018.

        • Avattoir says:

          In the Frog & Peach sketch,  Peter Cook’s Col. Bogey twit incompetent restaurant owner tells the interviewer he was so against WW2 “I wrote a letter”.

  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    A better defense posture is something Mr. Trump probably should be trying to establish.  The unabashedly pro-Putin stances he has taken before and during his time acting as president suggest that he would be closely following public and confidential materials about our long history of troubled relations with Russia.  Ignorance is an inadequate legal defense.  In Trump’s case it is hardly credible, no matter one’s assessment of the length or girth of his brain.

    If I were Trump, though, I would be careful about relying on his presidential version of the business judgment rule: It was a good decision to believe denials by a former head of the KGB, my belief was reasonable (ha, ha) and in the best interests of my country.  Unlike Mr. Trump, Mr. Mueller is not likely to be satisfied with a skin-deep assessment.  Nor is the public.  (Congress will ignore the lot, as it ignores assessing Roy Moore’s credibility so long as it thinks he will win and help maintain a Senate majority for the GOP.)

    • bell says:

      true, but the american people – especially the folks who voted for hillary are still unhappy.. – and don’t forget all the folks who would like to continue on with the demonization of russia – the only way forward is to continue to look for a russian boogieman with finger prints in it all..  this is what a country overrun by 2 bit lawyers do with their time… just ask the resident bozo bmaz..

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    As for Mr. Putin and every other head of government or head of state, are they relieved, gobsmacked or nervously laughing when the president of the most powerful government on the planet says that he believes former KGB head Vladimir Putin?  Are those reactions enhancing America’s status and credibility or are they what one expects to see following an especially good episode of the Daily Show?

  3. sapaterson says:

    The President must deny and obfuscate. He has lived his opulent lifestyle for so long that he has never tasted responsibility or a best has forgotten its flavor. He does not know the difference between right and wrong – or more accurately lacks the empathy for others that would and do suffer under his decisions to acquire money in spite of its source and despite the consequences. He doesn’t know if the things he has done are illegal. What’s saddest is that he doesn’t care. His many outrageous comments and his government by fiat are calculated to maximize his profit. If he loses power the lawsuits will envelop him for the rest of his life. And therein lays his weakness. The moment he admits that he has received mob money from Putin, his spell is broken and he will be removed. There will be no President Pence because his knowledge of Russian hacking is extensive and is undoubtedly documented by the Mueller investigation.

     

    Bannon, Page, Miller and to some extent the Pop are his ministers of ideology. Their level of vitriol allows the President to justify his calculated decisions to deprive the American people their few comforts like healthcare or infrastructure in order to bolster his bottom line.

     

    But here’s the problem: The next elections will be subjected to the money race once again. In 2020 we will talk about the Saudi money flowing into the coffers, or the offshore bank funds being redirected into the campaign of candidates X and Y. The problem is not the candidate it’s the system. We have a process that communicates the needs of the few to the benefit of the owners (and usurpers) of the air waves. How is that representative democracy?

  4. Bay State Librul says:

    Prediction:

    Trump will fire Mueller….

    Indictments need to be handed down with all deliberate speed.

     

  5. Tony says:

    Marcy, when you say you “have reason to believe something will be announced in the very near future,” are you referring to information you have that isn’t yet public, or just putting the puzzle pieces together? Just curious as I wasn’t clear. Thanks for all your excellent work.

  6. Domye says:

    “I have reason to believe something will be announced in the very near future that will blow the investigation wide open, in ways that may directly implicate the President.”

    Ummmmmmm. How soon is the very near future?

  7. Peterr says:

    Well, if repeatedly and firmly saying that you believe something makes it true, I give you an epic conclusion to a glorious post by Helen, of Margaret and Helen fame. After going on and on about what Dems and Republicans stand for, she ends like this:

    When I was a little girl, if you ran into someone like Donald Trump or Donald Trump Jr. you would conclude that they were not right in the head. Now I have a feeling that little expression is no longer politically correct, but in this case, it is medically correct so I could stand by it. Instead, I’ll try not to offend anyone and just say that Donald Trump is not normal, and I don’t mean that in a good way.  He’s about 9 eggs short of a dozen.   A small fries shy of a Happy Meal.  A Saturday devoid of a weekend. He’s only got one oar in the water. If his brains were dynamite, he couldn’t blow his nose. So dumb he couldn’t pour piss out of a boot with the instructions written on the heel… Awe hell. The man’s an idiot and so is his son, Slow Donnie.

    Might I remind all of you Republicans out there that your candidates insulted one another’s wives and compared penis size. And then you went and elected the disgusting one who admits to assaulting women. Last time I checked, Democrats didn’t nominate Harvey Weinstein.

    I’m a little tired of everyone trying to make sense out of this President. He ain’t right in the head. I mean it really.

    Note that this was written before the GOP leadership in Alabama announced that they would prefer a pedophile over a Democrat in the AL senate race to replace Jeff Sessions. God only knows what Helen would say about that episode.

    I mean it. Really.

      • Rugger9 says:

        Or, Molly Ivins.

        Maybe I missed it, but did the Kaiser even once mention the veterans on Veteran’s Day while slobbering over Putin’s boots?  I don’t think there is anything in the official transcript.

        I wonder how that vet who gave him the Purple Heart during the campaign (Kaiser Disgustus’ response: “I’ve always wanted one of these”) feels about him now.

  8. greengiant says:

    Certainty is at a premium. Whenever the Trump’s future becomes uncertain the markets should dump like they did after 9-11 and in 2008.  Actors dumping their non public scoops will help. It’s not orgasmic popcorn time until then.

  9. Bay State Librul says:

    His embracing of Putin is a criminal offense, of course.

    One Boston Globe opinion writer said

    “The federal crime of treason is committed by a person “owing allegiance to the United States who . . . adheres to their enemies, giving them aid or comfort,” and misprision of treason is committed by a person “having knowledge of the commission of any treason [who] conceals and does not disclose” the crime. By denigrating or seeking to prevent an investigation of the Russian cyberattack Trump is giving aid or comfort to an enemy of the United States, a crime that is enhanced if the fourth explanation applies — that he is in fact seeking to cover up his staff’s or his own involvement in or prior knowledge of the attack.”

    Don the Con is a fucking menace and Congress should act before Mueller gets fired

    • Rugger9 says:

      Realize that there is still no state of war, declared or otherwise with the Russian Federation.  Treason is therefore off the table.  Espionage, on the other hand doesn’t require such a high bar, and misprision applies just as nicely to that (and kidnapping, etc., etc., the Army must be so proud of Flynn).  It will be a distinction without a difference.

      Now as to why Congress is not acting on this the answer boils down as of now to “tax cuts”.  There’s also the problem for McTurtle, LyinRyan, Priebus, and the rest of the RNC that some of the DNC / Podesta hacked material (criminally obtained, this is important) had been used in (at least) FL with the full knowledge of the GOP leadership.  Also recall how McTurtle spiked Obama’s attempts to publicize and address the Russian meddling, and I would not be surprised to find out that Mueller can connect some dots to the RNC as well as the Trump campaign.  Bottom line, this means McTurtle and LyinRyan (and Devin Nunes, and JeffBo Sessions, and Dana Rohrabacher, and ….) want Mueller gone as much as Trump does but they know what kind of firestorm that would ignite in 2018.  So, while harrumphing about the optics, the GOP will not do anything like legislation to prevent firing (Trump would veto it anyway) on the threadbare theory that the Kaiser wouldn’t do it anyway because that would be crazy, etc., et al, ad nauseum.

      With the GOP, it is always worth remembering that what they DO is more important than what they SAY.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Donald Trump is painfully ignorant, has a negative learning curve, and is a non-stop liar.

    According to digby, for example, our narcissist-in-chief claims that it is “almost physically impossible” for anyone to travel to so many Asian capitals in just 12 days, meaning that his stamina is nothing short of Herculean.

    That explains how the GOP’s likely candidate for the presidency – ordinarily someone who could hire top talent from anywhere in the country – scoured London to sign such a weak braggart as George Papadopoulos as a “foreign policy advisor”.

    It also means that neither Trump nor his advisers could have talked to the 29 or so other CEOs – let alone any of the foreign correspondents – accompanying him on this tour.  Those CEOs probably make such trips once or twice a year, plus similar ones to Europe and Latin America.  Their heads of regional or international business would make them three or four times a year, as would their tax, treasury, legal and business development types and their auditors.  Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, KL, Jakarta.

    Their itineraries would typically not include the golf or Mr. Trump’s peculiar form of room service.  In between would be trips to Australia, Asia’s northern or southern tiers or other parts of the globe.  It was part and parcel of pursuing new investments, working out problems, and just managing relations and the corporate and tax formalities.

    The most charitable take on Mr. Trump’s patently absurd claims – other than that he seems incapable of making any other kind – is that his advisers meant that such routine travel would be impossible for him.

  11. Terry says:

    It’s not enough to have Trump, the man, discredited. Trumpism in the manifestation of  Trump needs to fully disgrace.

  12. Sane says:

    “It would also likely provoke a legal challenge from constitutional lawyers arguing that the president cannot use his pardoning power to obstruct justice.” (https://www.rawstory.com/2017/11/here-is-how-trump-is-laying-the-groundwork-to-fire-mueller-if-things-get-too-hot-for-him/)
    The fact that people are making this claim is absurd.
    We have a recent experience of perjuring poppa bush pardoning all his minions who were under indictment or threat of indictment to prevent them from putting him in jail for his, what 6 years?, of perjury about his diary’s on Iran/Contra.
    And no one said boo about it and the clinton administration buried the investigation.

    So now we have a modern ( 25 years ago) precedent allowing a president, even an outgoing one who issued pardons on his way out the door, who’se only purpose was to keep perjurer poppa out of jail.

    Now because the D’s were gutless demented donnie has a precedent with which to hide behind and a hand picked SCOTUS of partisan hacks who will trip over themselves to protect him.
    The only question is whether he can just issue one omnibus pardon for everyone or actually has to go through the task of naming and issueing individual pardons, even for himself and family.
     

  13. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I agree that it is Trumpism – the current form of the GOP – that needs to be incapacitated.  Donald is just its current manifestation and its logical conclusion.  His greatest problem is not his policies – those are GOP policies anyway – or even his opportunism, which disrupts the strategery his staff and supporters attempt.

    His greatest problem is that while he lies about everything, he can’t seem to practice the usual political deceit to hide what he is and what he wants.  That would get in the way of his bragging about how he is the bestest evuh at everything in human history.  (Evidence of how damaged his self-esteem really is.)

    His fundamentalist base thinks it’s cute and loves him for his “honesty”, no matter how much his policies will devastate their lives.  His Gooper supporters love him while he has a base, and while they have temporary control over both houses of Congress and probable control for a generation over the federal judiciary.

    The opportunities for the Democrats are abundant, so long as they don’t insist that business or staffing as usual will get them through; that would be like Capt. Queeg insisting that, despite the typhoon, there’s no need to turn their ship into the wind.

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