Donald Trump closed out last week by rumbling back into his battle against James Comey, who was FBI director until POTUS fired him. In the morning, he celebrated Comey’s Senate testimony as a “complete vindication” on Twitter. In the afternoon, Trump flat out called him a liar — in the Rose Garden no less.
When a reporter asked Trump if he would testify about his version of events “under oath” with the Justice Department’s special counsel in the Russia probe, Robert Mueller, the president said, “100 percent.” And Trump elaborated: “I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you.”
Well, that’s interesting.
A decade ago, my lawyers questioned Trump under oath during a deposition in a libel case he filed against me for a biography I wrote, “TrumpNation.” (Trump lost the case in 2011.) Trump had to acknowledge 30 times during that deposition that he had lied over the years about a wide range of issues: his ownership stake in a large Manhattan real estate development; the cost of a membership to one of his golf clubs; the size of the Trump Organization; his wealth; the rate for his speaking appearances; how many condos he had sold; the debt he owed, and whether he borrowed money from his family to stave off personal bankruptcy.
Trump also lied during the deposition about his business relationships with organized crime figures.
When my lawyers asked him whether he planned to sever his partnership with a developer named Felix Sater because of Sater’s mob ties, Trump said he hadn’t decided.
“Have you previously associated with people you knew were members of organized crime?” one of my lawyers asked.
“No, I haven’t,” Trump responded.
That wasn’t true, however. Trump, despite what he said in the deposition, had knowingly associated with mob figures before.
When Trump entered the Atlantic City casino market in the late 1970s, two of his partners were men he knew to have organized crime ties: Kenneth Shapiro, who was a bag man for the Philadelphia mob, and Daniel Sullivan, who was a Mafia associate and a labor negotiator.
Trump originally told casino regulators in Atlantic City in 1982 that his partners were reputable people. But when Trump later chatted with me aboard his jet about his troubled gambling career — almost 25 years after he entered Atlantic City — his memories of Shapiro and Sullivan had changed again.
“They were tough guys,” Trump told me. “In fact, they say that Dan Sullivan was the guy that killed Jimmy Hoffa.” Sullivan “probably wasn’t an honest guy,” Trump added, and Shapiro “was like a third-rate, local real estate Mafia.”
Trump’s propensity for lying was also on display throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. He said that he had opposed the Iraq War when he hadn’t; he lied about his stances on climate change and the national debt; he lied about various insults he had hurled at women; he lied about who had endorsed him; he lied about how much money his father had given him over the years, and on, and on.
A loose relationship with the facts has also plagued Team Trump in the White House. Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, Stephen Miller, Mick Mulvaney, Reince Preibus and, of course, Michael Flynn, have all been caught peddling blather or lies in the course of carrying out their civic duties.
Trump’s own lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, has had problems getting his facts straight, too. (Kasowitz represented Trump when the president sued me in 2006.) In a press release littered with errors and a misspelled title for Trump (“Predisent”), Kasowitz accused Comey last week of trying to undermine the White House by leaking information about his conversations with the president.
Kasowitz also said that Comey lied when testifying that he shared information about his conversations with the president only after Trump tweeted that he might have made tapes of the same conversations. Yet, Kasowitz claimed, the New York Times had published an article about the Comey-Trump conversations prior to Trump’s tweet. Kasowitz was wrong, however. The Times’ first article about the conversations appeared on May 16, four days after Trump tweeted.
And what about those tapes? Trump revived speculation about hidden White House tapes again on Friday, suggesting in the Rose Garden that he will advise the world about whether they exist in the “very near future.”
As I noted last month, I don’t think any tapes exist. Trump told me and other reporters over the years that he had a taping system in his Trump Tower office that he used to record journalists meeting with him. But when he testified under oath in the deposition for his suit against me, Trump acknowledged that he was “not equipped to tape-record.”
There’s another odd aspect to all of the back-and-forth about Trump’s multiple conversations with Comey: The president apparently never inquired about the substance of the FBI’s Russia investigation. That has prompted a former law enforcement professional and others to say that it reveals a troubling disregard for national security on the president’s part (which it does). Others noted that it also suggests that Trump may have already known quite a bit about the Russian affair — and therefore didn’t have many questions for Comey.
“The innocent ask a multitude of questions about what the detectives know, or why the cops might think X or Y or whether Z happened to the victim,” noted the former police reporter and creator of “The Wire,” David Simon, in a pair of Twitter posts. “The guilty forget to inquire. They know.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan said that Trump deserves a pass for strong-arming Comey because “the president is new at this” in Washington and he’s “learning as he goes.” But positioning the nation’s capital as a complicated place for unwary newcomers doesn’t hold much water for the president, who turns 71 in two days. In fact, Trump is not new at this at all — he’s been directly lobbying and strong-arming regulators and law enforcement officials for decades.
Trump is the man, after all, who coined the term “truthful hyperbole” as a euphemism for lying in his 1987 non-fiction work of fiction, “The Art of the Deal.” Thirty years later, he’s still up to his old tricks.
The difference now, of course, is that Trump is president. And in James Comey he’s collided with a seasoned, wily law enforcement official who opened the investigative door for Robert Mueller and cleared a path for him to bring the full force of the law to bear on the White House.
“I can definitively say the president is not a liar,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, said on Friday in response to a question about whether it is Trump or Comey who is lying.
But now that the president himself has invited the broader Russia probe and the Justice Department into the Oval Office we won’t have to take Sanders’ word for it — Mueller is going to help answer the question.