Whatever else you can say about the Russia investigations, they sure have revealed a growing number of lies from Trump aides and advisers.
The latest, according to the New York Times, involves Hope Hicks. The White House communications director reportedly told the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that her work for President Trump has occasionally meant she told white lies.
The Times's Nick Fandos reports:
But after extended consultation with her lawyers, she insisted that she had not lied about matters material to the investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible links to Trump associates, according to three people familiar with her testimony.
In other words: I have lied, but not about important stuff and not to you. That's a pretty remarkable statement and not exactly confidence-inspiring from the White House's lead communicator. Reporters everywhere have to be asking themselves whether they have fallen victim to what Hicks deemed to be white lies but they may not regard as such.
But it also puts her in some growing company. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation has collected three plea deals in which Trump aides admitted to lying to investigators: Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos and Rick Gates. Flynn was Trump's national security adviser, and Papadopoulos was a foreign policy adviser on the 2016 campaign. Gates was a significant figure throughout the campaign and an early outside adviser to the White House.
Even before the guilty pleas, it had been acknowledged that Flynn had at least misled the White House, which led Vice President Pence to make false assurances about Flynn's contacts with Russians. (And even independent of that, Pence has had his credibility issues.)
Trump himself said Flynn, who is cooperating with Mueller's investigation, lied.
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, like Hicks, has essentially admitted to being willing to lie while speaking on Trump's behalf. Spicer appeared on the Emmys to try to laugh off his bogus and easily disproved claims about the crowd size at Trump's inauguration. Around the same time, he said in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel that he felt his job was to say whatever Trump wanted. He has also said that he regretted his handling of the inaugural issue. Despite these comments, Spicer would later claim that he had not “knowingly” lied for Trump. Right.
Another frequent voice of the administration, Kellyanne Conway, hasn't directly admitted to lying for Trump, but she has suggested that the White House has “alternative facts” — an unfortunate turn of phrase that has stuck to the White House ever since she uttered it just after the inauguration flap. She also offered this defense when asked about whether Trump himself had lied when he peddled conspiracy theories about voter fraud and President Barack Obama wiretapping him: “He doesn’t think he’s lying about those issues.”
Lying and politics have often gone hand-in-hand, and spokespeople are undoubtedly put in a position of lying from time to time. But Trump's serial fabulism and use of hyperbole regularly put his aides in much tougher spots than usual -- leading to instances in which they clearly shared or defended false information, whether knowingly or not.
The White House's opponents would like for these to be labeled “lies,” but as Conway noted, that requires knowing what's in someone's head. From the media's perspective, that is a difficult thing to say with certainty; thankfully, there is a legal process responsible for deciding whether these officials have lied or misbehaved in other ways.
In several cases, they are now admitting they have lied. And when it comes to dealing with people like Hicks, that should color any reporters' reliance upon what she tells them.