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Here's why Trump should worry about the latest report on his directing Cohen to lie to Congress

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 1/18/2019 Timothy P. Carney
a man wearing a suit and tie: President Trump's company was working on a plan to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow toward the end of 2015 and into 2016, during his presidential campaign, according to a report. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) © Pablo Martinez Monsivais President Trump's company was working on a plan to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow toward the end of 2015 and into 2016, during his presidential campaign, according to a report. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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President Trump now stands accused of directing his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about Trump's attempt to court Vladimir Putin during the campaign and build a hotel in Moscow.

After two years of "bombshell" reports that proved duds, and "this is the beginning of the end!!!" declarations from the press, it's natural to be skeptical of the import of this one. Also, after the biggest earlier bombshells turned out to be factual errors by the media, it's natural to be skeptical of the validity of this one.

Buzzfeed this story on this is based on "two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter." They are obviously anonymous. They may or may not be from the Special Counsel's office.

So everyone should replace their freakouts with patience for now.

But until we hear more, here are the reasons to take this latest report from Buzzfeed news seriously.

It's not merely Cohen accusing Trump of ordering him to lie

Trump's shady lawyer Michael Cohen is known to lie about important things--that's probably what he's most known for. That's why Trump's team responded with snark: “If you believe Cohen I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”

But if Buzzfeed's sources are telling the truth, one doesn't have to believe Cohen in order to believe Trump told Cohen to lie.

Here's the key sentence: "The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office."

If this is accurate, it means more than one Trump Organization employee accused Trump of this, and that printed records may confirm it--all before Cohen confirmed it. That would be pretty solid evidence against the president.

Of course, I'd want to see the texts, emails, and other documents before assuming they show what these anonymous sources say they show.

Telling someone to lie to Congress is obstruction, according to Trump's Atty. Gen. nominee

I've been skeptical about the other legal arguments against Trump. The campaign-finance argument regarding Trump's payoffs to a porn star seemed like a legal stretch. The idea that firing Comey was corrupt never seemed proven. The whole notion of "collusion" has been left fairly vague.

But instructing someone to lie to investigators looks a lot like obstruction of justice. That's at least the opinion of William Barr, Trump's nominee to be attorney general.

In a memo Barr wrote in June 2018, "obstruction laws prohibit a range of 'bad acts' — such as tampering with a witness...." He also wrote "if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury , or induces a witness to change testimony, or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction."

The relevant language, distilled: "if a President knowingly ... suborns perjury ... then he ... commits the crime of obstruction."

If Trump knowingly told Cohen to lie to Congress--lying to Congress is its own crime, similar to perjury--he did something pretty darn close to what Barr has previously said was obstruction.

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