It’s easy to see why some of President Donald Trump’s lawyers — and friends — say he shouldn’t testify before special counsel Robert Mueller. The president of the United States is unable to distinguish between political rhetoric and the truth.
And lying under oath is a lot more serious than dissembling in a political speech or exaggerating in answering a reporter’s questions.
To be sure, all presidents engage in hyperbole and bend the truth. But Trump is setting a new standard. Just look at the past week:
Voter fraud. “In many places, like California, the same person votes many times,” Trump told a West Virginia audience April 5.
Cited without evidence, this echoes his unproven post-election claims that fraudulent votes provided Hillary Clinton’s 3 million popular vote margin. Trump’s own commission to investigate the issue collapsed amid false claims and disputed methodology. And scattered prosecutions, like the five-year sentence handed a Texas woman who voted illegally, have failed to reveal anything beyond isolated instances of individuals who essentially misunderstood relevant laws.
Amazon. “Only fools, or worse, are saying that our money losing Post Office makes money with Amazon,” Trump tweeted. “THEY LOSE A FORTUNE, and this will be changed.”
“In fact,” said CNBC, “Amazon may be saving the Post Office from financial ruin.” While the Postal Service continues to run a deficit, it noted, shipping and packages are bringing in increased revenue at a time when first class mail brings in less.
Trump called “The Fake News Washington Post” Amazon’s “chief lobbyist,” because it’s owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder and chairman of Amazon. But Bezos plays no role in the paper’s news operations, and the Post is independent of the publicly owned retailing giant.
Trade. “We are not in a trade war with China,” Trump tweeted as the two countries announced increased tariffs that many experts say threatens an economy-damaging international trade war.
The stock market agrees, having dropped nearly 10 percent since a late January peak. Analysts blame uncertainty about the potential economic impact of reciprocal trade moves that many economists, farm experts and politicians fear will damage the farm economy and, with it, Republican mid-term election chances.
Russia. “Nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have,” Trump reiterated on April 3, adding “we’ll find out” if President Vladimir Putin is “a friend or foe.”
Just hours later, his outgoing national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.L. McMaster, said Russia is engaged in “a pernicious form of aggression that combines political, economic, informational and cyber-assaults against sovereign nations.”
“We have failed to impose sufficient costs” for Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, he said, adding, “We must recognize the need for all of us to do more to respond to and deter Russian aggression.”
DACA. Trump said: “DACA is dead because the Democrats didn’t care or act,” referring to President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protecting immigrants brought in illegally as children by their parents.
It was Trump who ordered an end to DACA last September, a move blocked by federal courts. And he undermined compromise efforts in Congress — funding his cherished wall and protecting up to 1.8 million DACA beneficiaries — by insisting on strict anti-immigration measures that lacked sufficient Senate support.
Border crisis? “A lot of people are coming in because they want to take advantage of DACA,” Trump tweeted April 1. In fact, DACA covers only those who were under 16 and entered the U.S. by June 15, 2007.
Two days later, citing a “caravan” of Central American asylum seekers heading for the U.S. through Mexico, he said, “Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military,” The next day, he said he would send troops, declaring, “the situation at the border has now reached a point of crisis.”
Illegal immigration hit a 25-year-low in 2016, in part due to his strong stance, and, while somewhat higher recently, remains far below levels a decade ago. But Trump, frustrated by congressional refusal to approve his immigration agenda, wants to show supporters he is acting.
The Wall. “We’ve started building the wall,” Trump claimed April 3, citing $1.6 billion Congress approved for border security.
In fact, noted both Politifact and The Washington Post, the funds are for improving or replacing existing fencing and are limited to “currently deployed” measures. “To us, it’s all new wall,” countered Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. “This is the Trump border wall.”
Trump faces a real dilemma: 1) Testify in Mueller’s probe, as prior presidents have done, and risk doing what comes so naturally to him, thus inviting a perjury charge, or 2) Refuse to testify and create a potential constitutional crisis clash with the courts.
It’s an open question which would be more dangerous to his presidency.