The Scoop

Donald Trump’s History of Lying Under Oath

88_Trump Econ Speech
08/26/16
In the Magazine
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to the Detroit Economic Club at the Cobo Center in Detroit on August 8. Trump promised his policies would help struggling cities. Eric Thayer/REUTERS

An open letter to Paul Ryan on Donald Trump:

Mr. Speaker,

When Donald Trump suggested on August 9 that Hillary Clinton could be stopped from nominating judges only by “Second Amendment people,” most of the world gasped, realizing he was inciting violence against his opponent for the presidency. It was unprecedented, beneath contempt. But he didn’t apologize. Given my long experiences with Trump, I knew he would soon string together a babble of words in hopes of twisting his statement beyond recognition. And so he did, with an assist from sycophants like Sean Hannity of Fox News, who nodded like a bobblehead doll as Trump told him he didn’t mean that gun lovers should assassinate Clinton. He only meant they should be voting for him to keep her out of the White House.

RELATED: An Open Letter to Paul Ryan on Donald Trump

That makes no sense, and here’s a crucial thing to know about Trump: He never tries to make his lies or delusions or fantasies make sense. He just spews to explain away the inexplicable.

Call for Assassination

Let’s examine the words that got him into so much trouble: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what, that will be a horrible day.”

Trump’s post hoc interpretation: He doesn’t know if gun lovers will vote to keep Clinton out of office. Or he hopes gun owners will vote for him. Or only Trump voters with guns could keep Clinton out of office. None of that makes sense.

Read the original statement again. Did he mean it will be a horrible day when Second Amendment people stop her from picking judges? That’s a call for assassination. Or did he mean it will be a horrible day when a President Clinton picks judges, and only Second Amendment people might be able to stop it? Another call for assassination.

Trump then blamed the media for applying the rules of grammar and sentence structure to him, instead of being like his acolytes, for whom words and sentences no longer have agreed-upon meanings.

This, Mr. Speaker, is what you would be dealing with in a Trump presidency, and this flagrant disregard for the facts, for the truth, is why I am writing this, my second open letter to you. Trump must be stopped. Let the GOP lose this election. It is the only way to save the Republican Party, and the nation. Even some of his most deranged supporters recognize the danger he poses—one caller into C-SPAN last week said he knew his candidate might start a nuclear war, but at least America would win.

08_12_ryan_01 House Speaker Paul Ryan must denounce Donald Trump, even if it means the Republicans lose the presidency, Kurt Eichenwald writes. Reuters

I don’t believe Trump intended to incite his followers to shoot Clinton, but that is exactly his problem, the one I have seen since I first started covering him three decades ago. He just says things. His tongue moves so fast, it’s out the door before he’s out of bed. He says what he hopes is true. He attributes his biggest whoppers to anonymous others whispering things in his ears that no one else hears. (Many people are saying an Iranian scientist was killed because of Clinton’s emails; some people say Barack Obama’s birth certificate was a forgery; many people say he should host Meet the Press; a lot of people say a book of the Bible whose name he flubbed is called Two Corinthians rather than Second Corinthians.) He blusters and fumes and attacks when people challenge his nonsense, and he doesn’t even try to sound credible. He has spent too much time in business blustering, bullying and lying, and he isn’t about to stop now.

That’s why anyone considering voting for Trump should read some of the depositions he has given over the years. Remember, this was testimony under oath. Either he consistently lies when under oath or his inability to recognize the truth is a symptom of a psychiatric disorder. I described in my previous letter to you how Trump lied in testimony before Congress. He explicitly stated he had held no discussions with anyone associated with Indian casinos about doing business with them...and then a congressman produced an affidavit, telephone records and letters proving that was a lie.

Lies, Lies and More Lies

What is most disturbing in Trump’s sworn statements is the amount of nonsense he spouts as he mangles the English language into meanings no rational person could accept. An unsuccessful “development by Donald Trump” is not a “development by Donald Trump.” A successful project built by another developer who paid to have Trump’s name on the building is a “Donald Trump development.” A payment of $400,000 equals a payment of $1 million. An ownership stake of 30 percent is actually a 50 percent stake. In a single sentence, he says he knows some people’s names but not their identities, as if talking about Batman and Superman. He studied résumés, but he only glanced at them. The list goes on, with one point in common: Every one of his answers, while under oath, depends not on the truth but on whether it makes him look good.

In December 2008, just after the Democrats won the White House, Trump wrote on his personal blog, "Hillary is smart, tough and a very nice person and so is her husband." He then added, “Bill Clinton was a great president.” The words are simple and clear. Earlier this year, in a deposition given in a lawsuit against Trump involving allegations of fraud regarding his real estate courses (called Trump University), the plaintiff’s lawyer asked Trump if he had ever called Bill Clinton a great president. Trump refused to answer directly, saying the scandal involving Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky had damaged his presidency. Finally, the lawyer showed Trump the blog post in which he had praised Bill Clinton as president and asked if Trump believed what he wrote.

“I was fine with it at the time,” Trump replied. “I think in retrospect, looking back, it was not a great presidency because of his scandals.” In other words, in 2008 Trump thought Clinton was a great president, but then because of the Lewinsky scandal—something that occurred a decade before that blog post—he changed his mind. How did he explain the obvious lie? “It's not something I gave very much thought to then because I wasn't in politics,” he said.

That—surprise!—was also a lie. Trump had been giving plenty of thought to politics for more than a decade. In fact, in 1999, in the middle of the Lewinsky scandal, he said, “While I have not decided to become a candidate at this time, if the Reform Party nominated me, I would probably run and probably win." Not only that, but Trump’s staff that year contacted dozens of officials to ask about his running as the Reform Party candidate and had examined the ballot requirements for the 29 states where the party was not yet on the ballot. He also announced his position on a number of issues, including his support for abortion rights.

And yet, come 2016, Trump said—under oath—that he hadn’t thought about politics “much” as late as 2008, nine years after his first planned run for the presidency.

In that same deposition, Trump was asked if he had ever said Hillary Clinton would be a great vice president or president. After receiving an assurance that the exhibit being held by the plaintiff’s lawyer did not contain that statement, Trump said he didn’t think he had ever said it. Then the plaintiff’s lawyer produced a new exhibit, another 2008 blog post by Trump: “I know Hillary, and I think she would make a great president or vice president."

How could Trump now be claiming Hillary Clinton was too incompetent to be president? “Well, I didn't think too much about it,” he said again. In other words, Trump claimed in sworn testimony that he was writing blog posts without thinking and said many things he did not believe. (He made the same claim when confronted with his praise of men who were then his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former New York Governor George Pataki and former Texas Governor Rick Perry.)

In that same 2016 deposition, Trump was confronted with a marketing video in which he said professors and adjunct professors would be teaching the classes for Trump University. He was then asked if he knew the identities of the adjunct professors. “I know names, but I really don't know the identities,” he said. As with many of Trump’s dismissals of evidence when he is caught, the answer makes no sense. P.S.: He never gave the names “he knew” of the adjunct professors; that would have been a challenge, since those people did not exist.

08_12_trump_01 Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign rally at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Florida, on August 11. Trump has a long history of questionable statements in legal depositions. Eric Thayer/Reuters

Trump often doesn’t even try to make sense when explaining away a lie. In 2011, he was deposed about a failed Florida condo project. The building’s developer had paid a licensing fee to slap the Trump name on it, but—other than allowing his name to be used in marketing to deceive potential buyers—Trump had nothing to do with the project, which closed after taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in nonrefundable deposits. During Trump’s testimony under oath, the plaintiff’s lawyer confronted him with marketing material in which he had boasted that the building would be a “signature development by Donald J. Trump.” Despite the indisputable meaning of those words, Trump disputed them: When the advertising says the building is a development by Donald Trump, “in some cases they’re developed by me and in some cases they’re not.” He never explained how “developed by Trump” can mean “not developed by Trump” but pointed out that the lengthy legal documents signed by those unfortunate buyers disclosed in the fine print that he was not the builder. Why, then, the plaintiff’s lawyer asked, didn’t he include that disclosure in the advertising rather than the misleading “signature development” clause? “You can’t put it in the advertising because there’s not enough room,” Trump replied.

Clearly perplexed, the plaintiff’s lawyer tried to get Trump to explain how the same words could mean different things. “It’s your testimony that the statement ‘this signature development by Donald J. Trump’ is consistent with the position that Donald J. Trump is not a developer of this project?”

“Absolutely,” Trump testified.

The all-time classic Trump deposition is the one he gave in 2007 in a libel lawsuit he brought against Timothy O’Brien, author of TrumpNation, because the book stated that Trump’s net worth was far less than he claimed. (It was. Just ask Deutsche Bank.) Throughout this deposition, Trump sounded delusional, in what some might dismiss as compulsive lying. But knowing Trump, I don’t think he was lying; he believed what he was saying, but the facts just kept getting in his way.

Trump needed to prove he was damaged by the purported libel, but he wasn’t content with just saying he had lost some specific bit of business. Instead, he claimed to have lost business he never knew existed. “The fact is that a lot of people who would have done deals with me didn’t come to do deals with me,” he testified. “I can’t tell you who they are because they never came to me.”

Then there were the questions about what he owns. Trump was shown a nasty note he had written to a reporter in which he claimed to own 50 percent of a Manhattan property called the West Side Yards. In fact, he owned 30 percent, but rather than simply say he’d made a mistake, Trump claimed 30 percent equals 50 percent. “I own 30 percent,” he testified. “And I’ve always felt I owned 50 percent.” The reason, Trump explained, was that he didn’t put up any of his money in the deal, an explanation that makes no sense and does not change the fact that 30 percent is not, nor never will be, 50 percent.

His flexibility with numbers showed up later in the deposition, when confronted with public statements he had made about being paid $1 million to make a particular speech; he had received only $400,000—a huge sum that he still felt compelled to more than double. Well, Trump explained, the marketing he received in advertisements for the speech was worth so much to him that the amount of money he received was equal to $1 million. (Don’t try to understand that. It will make your brain melt.)

Trump was later shown a letter he wrote to The Wall Street Journal, which mentioned two of “his” developments, including Trump Tower in Waikiki. Just like in the failed Florida project, Trump had simply sold his name to the developer. This time, though, the building was a success, so Trump claimed the Hawaiian development as his own. How? “It really is a form of ownership, because this is such a strong licensing agreement that I consider it to be a form of ownership,” he testified. That is hogwash; ownership entails a series of obligations and liabilities. Through the licensing agreement, Trump assumed none of those, with the exception of making sure the company building the project did not market it by claiming Trump was the developer.

The rationalizations go on page after page in his depositions, Mr. Speaker, but you get the point. The man running as the Republican Party’s nominee for president is either a liar or—what I think is more likely—has no idea what the truth is and will say anything.

Mr. Speaker, do not let your pride or party loyalty put us all at risk. As the most important Republican out there, you must condemn Trump and withdraw your endorsement of him.