On Thursday morning, Rudolph W. Giuliani was up in arms about lying to congressional investigators. He accused Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, of lying in his testimony last week and said he should be charged with perjury. “Do they care about the truth?” he tweeted.
On Thursday night, though, Giuliani, one of Trump’s current attorneys, took a very different view of the severity of a Trump ally lying to investigators. This time, he cast Paul Manafort — who lost his cooperation deal with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III by lying — as a principled man who was unwilling to lie.
“The man was treated this way because he wouldn’t lie,” Giuliani told the Associated Press about the former Trump campaign chairman. He added in a later comment to PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor, “They should be ashamed of their horrendous treatment of Paul Manafort, who they pressured relentlessly because, unlike Michael Cohen, he wouldn’t lie for them.”
So to recap:
- One former Trump ally and convicted felon who allegedly lied (again) to Congress: awful
- One current Trump ally and convicted felon who lied to investigators: hero who refuses to lie
Trump also took both of these positions in tweets and comments Friday morning.
The Trump team’s relationship with the truth has always been a complicated one, not least because Trump himself has made more than 9,000 false or misleading claims as president. Even Friday morning, Trump incorrectly claimed for about the 200th time that a legal proceeding had cleared him of collusion when it had done no such thing.
But Trump and his team’s prosecution of the PR case against Cohen in recent weeks has been particularly rich, given their elevation of Manafort, and the likes of Giuliani have previously dismissed lying to investigators as merely a “process crime.”
They seem to regard people who hurt Trump as irredeemable liars but those who have lied and helped Trump as people just caught up in overzealous prosecutions. (It was the same with former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and it’s looking the same with Trump friend Roger Stone, though he hasn’t been convicted.) They have even tried to argue that proven liars like Manafort are somehow principled because, while they’ve been willing to lie about certain things, they’ve been unwilling to lie specifically to hurt Trump. So they’re liars, but not that kind of liar.
The Trump team would certainly argue that it is just trying to apply the same standard across the board. If its allies are going to be prosecuted for lying, then why shouldn’t foes such as Cohen be brought up on charges again for lying to Congress? (The real reason is because it’s not clear what he said meets the high bar for perjury, even as he clearly left a misleading impression.)
But if someone like Cohen simply can’t be trusted because he lied to Congress, how are we to believe Manafort, another convicted liar, is actually a principled one? And shouldn’t the fact that he lied about contacts with a Russian associate allegedly tied to Russian intelligence raise a red flag or two about his credibility? He did it even after he had already been convicted once, so he clearly knew what was at stake.
In the end, both his and Cohen’s claims should be viewed skeptically, given their histories. But it looks a whole lot as though the Trump team is saying there is such a thing as telling the right kind of lies.