Donald Trump committed perjury. Or he looked into the faces of the Republican faithful and knowingly lied. There is no third option.
It has become an accepted reality of this presidential campaign that Trump spins a near-endless series of falsehoods. For months, the media has struggled with this unprecedented situation—a candidate who, unlike other politicians who stretch the truth, simply creates his own reality. Trump regularly peddles “facts” that aren’t true, describes events that never happened or denies engaging in actions that everyone saw him do. He utters his falsehoods so fast that before reporters have the chance to correct one, he has tossed out five or six more.
This time, it is different. Trump can’t skip past his perfidy here. There are two records—one, a previously undisclosed deposition of the Republican nominee testifying under oath, and the second a transcript/video of a Republican presidential debate. In them, Trump tells contradictory versions of the same story with the clashing accounts tailored to provide what he wanted people to believe when he was speaking.
This fib matters far more than whether Trump was honest about why he abandoned his birther movement or the corollary fib that Hillary Clinton started the racist story that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya. In the lie we are examining here, Trump either committed a felony or proved himself willing to deceive his followers whenever it suits him.
Trump told the public version of this story last year, during the second Republican presidential debate.
Trump had been boasting for weeks at his rallies that he knew the political system better than anyone, because he had essentially bought off politicians for decades by giving them campaign contributions when he wanted something. He also proclaimed that only he—as an outsider who had participated in such corruption of American democracy at a high level—could clean it up. During the September 2015 debate, one of Trump’s rivals, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, verified Trump’s claim, saying the billionaire had tried to buy him off with favors and contributions when he was Florida’s governor.
"The one guy that had some special interests that I know of that tried to get me to change my views on something—that was generous and gave me money—was Donald Trump,” Bush said. “He wanted casino gambling in Florida."
Trump interrupted Bush:
Trump: I didn’t—
Bush: Yes, you did.
Trump: Totally false.
Bush: You wanted it, and you didn’t get it, because I was opposed to—
Trump: I would have gotten it.
Bush: Casino gambling before—
Trump: I promise, I would have gotten it.
Bush: During and after. I’m not going to be bought by anybody.
Trump: I promise, if I wanted it, I would have gotten it.
Bush: No way. Believe me.
Trump: I know my people.
Bush: Not even possible.
Trump: I know my people.
If Trump was telling the truth that night, so be it. But if he was lying, what was his purpose? His “If I wanted it, I would have gotten it,” line may be a hint. Contrary to his many vague stories on the campaign trail about being a cash-doling political puppet master, this story has a name, a specific goal and ends in failure. If Bush was telling the truth, then Trump would have had to admit he lost a round and, as he assured the audience, that would not have happened. When he wants something, he gets it.
But that wasn’t the point he needed to make in 2007. The deposition was part of a lawsuit he’d filed against Richard Fields, whom Trump had hired to manage the expansion of his casino business into Florida. In the suit, Trump claimed that Fields had quit and taken all of the information he obtained while working for Trump to another company. Under oath, Trump said he did want to get into casino gambling in Florida but didn’t because he had been cheated by Fields.
A lawyer asked Trump, “Did you yourself do anything to obtain any of the details with respect to the Florida gaming environment, what approvals were needed and so forth?”
Trump: A little bit.
Lawyer: What did you do?
Trump: I actually spoke with Governor-elect Bush; I had a big fundraiser for Governor-elect Bush…and I think it was his most successful fundraiser, the most successful that he had had up until that point, that was in Trump Tower in New York on Fifth Avenue.
Lawyer: When was that?
Trump: Sometime prior to his election.
Lawyer: You knew that Governor Bush, Jeb Bush at that time, was opposed to expansion of gaming in Florida, didn't you?
Trump: I thought that he could be convinced otherwise.
Lawyer: But you didn't change his mind about his anti-gaming stance, did you?
Trump: Well, I never really had that much of an opportunity because Fields resigned, telling me you could never get what we wanted done, only to do it for another company.
One of these stories is a lie—a detailed, self-serving fabrication. But unlike the mountain of other lies he has told, this time the character trait that leads to Trump’s mendacity is on full display: He makes things up when he doesn’t want to admit he lost.
Assume the story he told at the debate is the lie. Even though Bush’s story reinforced what Trump was saying at rallies—he had played the “cash for outcomes” political game for years—he could not admit he had tried to do the same in Florida because he could not bring himself to say that he had lost. Instead, he looked America in the eye and lied. And then he felt compelled to stack on another boast: His people are so wonderful that they would have gotten casino gambling in Florida, regardless of Bush’s opposition—if Trump had wanted it.
Now consider the other option, that Trump committed perjury in the 2007 testimony. There, he admitted pushing for casino gambling in Florida, but said he would have gotten what he wanted if he hadn’t been tricked by Fields. The rationale for the perjurious testimony is simple—Trump wants money from a man who stopped working for him and, once again, the story lets him deny he is anything less than perfect.
No question, these two stories must be investigated if there is ever a President Trump. In their impeachment of President Bill Clinton for lying under oath about an extramarital affair, Republicans established the standard that failing to tell the truth while testifying—even in the most understandable of circumstances—rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors. Surely, perjury for pecuniary purposes or to inflate one’s self-image cannot be ignored.
Finally, the lie here matters because it shows how shameless Trump is and how reckless. He told this lie even though he knew he was standing next to a credible witness—Bush—who could contradict him, and he gambled that no one would discover his sworn testimony.
Trump’s penchant for this type of baldfaced lying could undermine American foreign policy—when he meets with a foreign official, will he try to deceive the world about what happened? That question already came into play in early September when Trump flew to Mexico to talk with that country’s president in a bizarre publicity stunt. He came out of the meeting and declared the two had never discussed his signature issue—that he would compel the Mexican government to pay for a wall along America’s southern border. Before an hour passed, a Mexican official declared that Trump’s statement was false, and that President Enrique Peña Nieto had told the Republican nominee that his country would never pony up the cash for the wall. Either Trump lied or Peña Nieto did. The government of Mexico—one of America’s most important trading partners and allies—knows whether a President Trump will be trustworthy or will lie out of convenience, on matters large or small. Shouldn’t the American public know the same before it votes in November?
Trump must be called upon to answer the troubling questions raised by the episode regarding Bush and gambling in Florida: Is the Republican nominee a perjurer or just a liar? If he refuses to answer—just as he has refused to address almost every other question about his character and background—Trump supporters must carefully consider whether they want to vote for a man who at best has treated them like fools over the past year and at worst committed a crime