The examples of Trump’s willingness to bend the truth to breaking documented by special counsel Robert Mueller are legion. Here are just a few:
- Trump told White House counsel Don McGahn to deny that Trump had ordered him to fire Mueller in the summer of 2017 following media reports that detailed the episode. McGahn refused to lie, insisting that his memory of the incident was correct.
- Trump told the media that he had fired FBI director James Comey because of a memo written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein detailing the ways in which Comey broke the chain of command during the 2016 election. The Mueller report notes that Trump had made the decision to fire Comey before Rosenstein ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).
- Trump denied any significant involvement in the construction of Donald Trump Jr.’s statement in the wake of New York Times reporting about a June 2016 meeting between, among others, the President’s eldest son and several Russians. According to the Mueller report, Trump specifically requested a line be deleted that acknowledged that one of the purposes of the meeting was in hopes of gathering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s dim view of the value of telling the truth rolls downhill in his administration. Again, the Mueller report documents a series of instances where the President’s advisers lie either because they believe that’s what he wants them to do or because he has normalized it to the point that they no longer feel as though it’s even the wrong thing to do.
The most glaring of these distortions came out of the mouth of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who, in May 2017, said this in the wake of the firing of Comey:
“The President, over the last several months, lost confidence in Director Comey. The DOJ [Department of Justice] lost confidence in Director Comey. Bipartisan members of Congress made it clear that they had lost confidence in Director Comey. And most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.”
Pressed by reporters on that that last comment — about the “rank and file” losing confidence in Comey — suggesting that the rank and file were supportive of Comey, Sanders responded this way: “We’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.”
It turns out that, well, wasn’t true. Here’s what Mueller wrote about the episode:
“Sanders told this Office that her reference to hearing from ‘countless members of the FBI’ was a ‘slip of the tongue.’ She also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made ‘in the heat of the moment’ that was not founded on anything.”
On Fox News Channel Thursday night, Sanders explained that discrepancy this way: “I acknowledge that I had a slip of the tongue when I used the word ‘countless,’ but it’s not untrue … that a number of both current and former FBI agents agreed with the President.”
But at least according to what she told the special counsel’s office, it is untrue. She said that her claim that “countless members” of the FBI were glad to see Comey go was “not founded on anything.”
This is the culture that Trump has ushered into the White House — and cultivated. He not only shows little concern for what’s true, he is also entirely unwilling to ever admit when he has been caught in a clear lie. (Remember when Trump said, on Air Force One, that he had no idea where Michael Cohen got the money to pay off Stormy Daniels? So, yeah.)
That such a culture exists in the highest elected office in the country shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who has been paying attention over the past few years. It was apparent from Day 1 of the administration when then press secretary Sean Spicer was put out there by Trump to insist, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the inaugural crowd who watched Trump be sworn in as the 45th president was the largest in American history.
In small and large ways since that day way back in January 2017, Trump and those around him have repeatedly shown a willingness to obfuscate, distort and downright lie when it suits their needs.
What the Mueller report did then was not reveal that this culture existed within the White House. Rather, through the steady accumulation of facts and data, it showed just how pervasive the willingness to not be honest is within not only the Oval Office but also the people who work for the President.
It’s a stark and startling set of facts. And not one that even the most loyal Trump ally would rightly dispute.