Donald Trump just gave us all a crash course in what not to do as a potential target of an investigation: Talk about your state of mind.
In an April 7 interview in the Washington Post, he said at least three things that investigators have already disproven or will look to quickly disprove.
False stories are commonly cover-ups for truths we wish to hide. Even for someone like Trump, who lies gratuitously, false statements that one goes out of one’s way to publish—as by arranging an interview with the most prominent newspaper in Washington—are special cases.
All the more so when the lies are so clearly designed to answer damaging allegations previously floated on the airwaves.
Should Trump eventually be indicted, jurors will understand that. There is little better evidence of a guilty mind—criminal intent—than an accused person lying about what he was thinking to cover up his actions.
Here are three things Trump said that fit that frame.
- “I thought it was a shame. I hated seeing it. I hated seeing it.”
Trump was speaking of the Capitol siege. But within two days of it, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt that he’d heard from White House aides that Trump was “delighted” by the attack.
“As this was unfolding on television,” Sasse said, “Donald Trump was walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was as you had rioters pushing against Capitol Police, trying to get into the building.”
A month later, a senior White House aide confirmed to CNN that Trump was “loving watching the Capitol mob.”
We know that the House Select Committee investigating January 6 has talked to aides who were with the former President that day. Lt. Keith Kellogg was apparently with him and has reportedly confirmed that “Trump was reluctant to quell the violence.” More such reports are surely in the committee’s hands and are likely to be made public in the next months.
- “I kept asking why isn’t . . . Nancy Pelosi doing something about it? And the mayor of D.C. also. The mayor of D.C. and Nancy Pelosi are in charge. And I said, ‘It’s got to be taken care of,’ and I assumed they were taking care of it.”
Again, multiple Trump aides have testified before the select committee. You can bet that we would know about it if they had said that the former President “kept asking why Nancy Pelosi isn’t doing something about” the attack.
Should Trump be indicted and tried, prosecutors will ask aides whether Trump expressed frustration that the House speaker or D.C. Mayor had not stopped the siege. When those witnesses shake their heads, it will add to the damning evidence of someone covering up for himself.
As for the notion that Trump “assumed they were taking care of it,” any prosecutor would ask, in closing argument, “Why would the President of the United States leave it to others to stop something ‘he hated seeing?’” Lame excuses to explain away incriminating facts—such as the then-President’s 187-minute delay in publicly calling off the attackers—do not convince jurors.
- “I don’t remember getting very many [telephone calls that day]. . . . Why would I care about who called me? If congressmen were calling me, what difference did it make?”
Trump says he talked to “other people” besides the two men who have disclosed their calls, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH). But he says he “could not say exactly who he talked to that afternoon, or when.”
Other allies in Congress surely phoned him in the emergency. The former President, on his most consequential day in office, did not forget calls from others in a position to support him by trying to keep him in power.
Jurors are instructed to use their common sense. What would any person using common sense make of a President of the United States who says he “hated” seeing the Capitol attacked, and then claims it made no difference who phoned him about it?
A final point. The Post reporters observed that “Trump appeared preoccupied with the notion that his grip on the GOP is not as strong as it once was.” That would be normal in a politician, as would concern about recent reporting of stepped-up investigations focused on him and his circle.
Those are precisely the circumstances when good lawyers tell their clients to resist the impulse to speak out. Their words often come back to haunt them.