President Trump acknowledged Thursday that he had not recorded his conversations with James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director he fired amid the Justice Department’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia.
“With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking, and illegal leaking of information,” Mr. Trump said in a pair of tweets shortly before 1 p.m., “I have no idea …. whether there are ‘tapes’ of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, such recordings.”
.. Some legal experts have said that Mr. Trump’s threat could be used in an obstruction of justice case against him, since it could be interpreted as putting pressure on Mr. Comey not to discuss their conversations about the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation.
.. Ms. Sanders said that Mr. Trump had promised to deliver an answer on the existence of the tapes by the end of the week, and that he had delivered on that promise. She also said she did not believe his intention in his original Twitter post about tapes had been to intimidate Mr. Comey.
.. Trump could have set the record straight 40 days ago.
Instead he chose to toy with the American people.
I don’t know who is worse, Trump for making such a sick joke or anyone who defends this.
For anyone who was in doubt, this should clear things up: the President can not be trusted.
How Trump used “Weasel Words” to Trick Us into Thinking He Agreed to Testify Under Oath.
There is so much media attention to President Trump that it amazes me that I haven’t heard anyone else debunk the conventional wisdom that President Trump agreed to testify under oath — “100%.” This would be true if he had stopped speaking at that point, but in the 9 quick sentences that followed, Trump used a tricky distraction technique to take back his word.
What Trump actually agreed to was the following:
- Trump may, or may not have asked James Comey for his loyalty, but if he did, Trump didn’t ask Comey to put his hand on the Bible when Comey’s allegiance was requested.
Trump’s tricky answer is either a strange accident, or an example of a “master manipulator”1 practicing his craft. The creator of the Dilbert comic strip, Scott Adams, has been arguing for a long time that Trump’s “persuasion skills” are the best he’s seen.
In the rest of this post, I’ll compare Trump’s skill at the “trick answer” to Bill and Hillary Clinton’s attempts to trick the public, showing you how Trump takes deception to a whole new level.
What is a “Non-Denial Denial”?
The non-denial denial is a statement that is designed to appear to the uninitiated like a legitimate denial of an allegation. It is used to deceive the public, often by answering a different question than what was asked or implied.
Let’s compare how Bill, Hillary, and Trump execute assertions and denials using various tricks:
1) Bill Clinton: Use a Word with a Private Definition
Sometimes a non-denial denial hinges upon the definition of the word, which the politician has carefully selected to mislead the public.
Watch Bill Clinton slyly slip in the term “sexual relations” into this press event so as to give hope to supporters looking for an excuse to still believe in him. (The term “sexual relations” was chosen because it was defined to not include oral sex).
This word trick gave those who wanted to believe in Clinton a reason to withhold judgement for a while. If I were to score this trick on execution, I would give it a 9 out of 10, but note, Bill still got impeached.
2) Hillary Clinton: “Wipe Like with a Cloth”
Bill Clinton had the “gift”. He was a “natural” as they say. Hillary is said to be great in a one-on-one or small-group setting, but she couldn’t spin the media like her husband. Watch as Hillary tries to redefine the term “wipe” in reference to her private email server:
3) Donald Trump: “100%. I Didn’t Say Under Oath.”
Donald Trump was recently facing questions about his earlier vague denial of James Comey’s testimony.
After Trump appeared2 to deny the earlier Comey claim, Trump was asked a followup question about whether he would be willing to testify under oath that he had not asked Comey for a pledge of loyalty. Notice how Trump twists the question from whether he would be willing to testify under oath into a misdirection about whether he asked Comey to pledge his loyalty under oath.
Here’s an excerpt from the full transcript:
(Note: The clip begins by Trump trash-talking ABC New’s Jonathan Karl, the journalist asking the question, and interrupting him, causing Karl to trip-up in posing the question. The question should be: “did you ask Comey for a pledge of loyalty?)
KARL: And did he ask for a pledge of loyalty from you? That’s another thing he said.
TRUMP: No he did not.3
KARL: So, he said those things under oath. Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of events?
TRUMP: 100%. 4 I didn’t say under oath — I hardly know the man, I’m not going to say I want you to pledge allegiance. Who would do that? Who would ask a man to pledge allegiance, under oath? I mean, think of it. I hardly know the man. It doesn’t make sense. No, I didn’t say that, and I didn’t say the other.
KARL: So, if Robert Mueller wanted to speak with you about that you’d be willing to talk to him?
TRUMP: I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you, Jon.5
Trump’s Misdirection was a Success, Judging from the Media Coverage
We don’t know what the outcome of this long-term legal and public relations “war” will be, but Trump seems to have succeeded in this minor battle, which involved a very difficult feat — a real-time non-denial denial, which Trump turned into a persuasive “positive” — 100%. Many people now actually have the impression that Trump wants to testify. Trump’s answer seems a little bizarre, but the newspaper stories portray Trump’s answers as a full-throated denial, which is the goal.
Deception for Sport
Dilbert creator, Scott Adams, thinks Trump will never actually testify under oath. Perhaps Trump will say that he wants to testify but his lawyers advise against it, or, like in the case of his taxes, he will give cascading series of other excuses. With this performance, Trump also leaves open the option to claim that he misheard the question, while further giving him a feeling of dominance — that he can manipulate the media with impunity and win. It’s almost as if Donald does “deception” for sport.
“Cheating, Fair and Square”
I’m giving Trump a 9.5 out of 10 for degree of difficulty, but in some ways it is riskier to use deceptive tricks rather than an outright lie, because if the trick is uncovered, its existence is tantamount to an admission that you are lying. I don’t have any special insight into Trump’s psyche, but if I had to guess why he acts in this way, I think it’s because deception has become a game to him. Donald games the public for the same reason he games his taxes, stiffs his business partners6 and dupes Trump University students7 — the thrill of feeling like you got away with “cheating, fair and square.”
If Trump succeeds in this deception, a Republican-controlled House and Senate make his prospects better than Bill’s. Trump just needs to make sure he doesn’t lose the House in the mid-term elections.
The Alternative Option: Take the 5th
There is another option which Trump described in 1998 when Chris Matthews asked him about what Bill Clinton should have done. Trump said Bill should have taken the 5th and attacked the Special Prosecutor for being out to get him. This is a strategy he later seems to have adopted in the Trump University case with Judge Curiel, which he later settled.
Note: You are free to use the contents of this post, including direct quotation of indefinite length without paraphrasing. I expressly waive copyright to this post, so as to encourage its circulation.
Dilbert creator Scott Adams says that “persuasion” is not good or bad in itself. Persuasion is a tool that can be used for either good or evil. When persuasion becomes “manipulation”, I no longer see that as neutral.↩
I say appeared because I think it more likely that Trump was asserting that the reporter’s wording wasn’t an exact match.↩
Technically Trump is correct because, by rattling him, Trump was able to trip Karl up into misstating the question.↩
All the soundbites end here with “100%,” but watch the next 9 sentences that negate the affirmation. If Trump really meant “YES”, he could have said “YES. ABSOLUTELY” and left it at that. I can see no other purpose for these next 9 sentences other than as weasel words.↩
Trump is only committing himself to affirm to Mueller the nonsensical response that Trump did not ask Comey to swear loyalty to him under oath. Furthermore, technically speaking, Trump did not commit to making the statement to Mueller while under oath.↩
Even though Trump could have paid his suppliers, he had some of his corporations declare “strategic bankruptcy.” He is extremely wealthy now, but he takes pride in stiffing those who worked for him.↩
Trump was deeply involved in the marketing of Trump University, but had no role in the actual teaching. Some of the seminars were taught by timeshare salesmen just looking for a quick buck.↩
James Regan swindled his way through the city’s monied classes. The problem was, he seemed to believe his own lies
.. It was the morning before Canada Day 2016, and James Regan needed somewhere to live. A distinguished, even handsome, man of sixty-two with silver hair and a trim moustache, Regan presented himself at the Chestnut Park Real Estate office, a luxury brokerage in the heart of Summerhill, one of Toronto’s most desirable neighbourhoods. Smartly dressed, he approached the receptionist and inquired about renting an apartment.
His taste was exquisite. He had recently moved out of an opulent rental that he’d outfitted with close to $17,000 in furniture—a striking double-pedestal banded dining-room table set made of yew wood by England’s Bevan Funnell, two Regency armchairs, and a pair of chinoiserie cherry-wood nightstands. He drank good French wine and had his eye on an Audi A4. He seemingly knew everyone—judges, lawyers, politicians, nhl players and executives. He presented himself as a devout Catholic, a family man devoted to his son, Brandon, and Brandon’s mother. Claiming to run a thriving consultancy, he hobnobbed at the city’s most exclusive social clubs, hotels, and events.
.. When he was booted from the Sheraton Hotel, a police officer told hotel security that there were 128 police entries about Regan on file. His name appears in relation to twenty-nine different criminal-court matters in the city of Toronto alone. Regan would go on to be banned from every single Service Canada location for a year because of his “aggressive and disruptive behaviour” at its office on St. Clair Avenue.
.. He always eventually loses, but at a glacial pace.
.. Ennis was so frustrated by Regan’s imperviousness to the justice system that she went to the only institution left that she thought could help: the media. So she called the cbc.
.. Regan and Ennis finally went before the ltb. Regan caught wind of the fact that there were reporters on his trail and requested that the matter be heard privately. The tribunal denied his request. Regan then asked for an adjournment, claiming that he hadn’t received the notice of the hearing—which he was at that moment attending—in the mail.
.. But as he came out the front doors, he was met by a cbc news crew. “Why haven’t you paid your rent, sir?” the cbc’s Trevor Dunn asked him. As usual, Regan was impeccably attired—for this occasion, he sported a blue plaid blazer and matching tie. “Because the legal opinions that I’ve been given are indicating that there’s a breach of the landlord’s responsibility,” he said, referring to the air conditioner.
.. After a few days, Regan hadn’t been arrested, so Chik went to 53 Division to ask why. It was 53 Division, after all, that in 2008 had issued the bulletin about Regan being wanted for sexual assault. An officer there told her to forget about it. “His lawyer will rip you apart,” the officer told her. “You’ll regret it.”
.. Confidence men can sell you only those lies that you’re already prepared to believe. They are emissaries of our own optimism, bearing the promise that the world is as decent as we’d hoped.
.. In 1848, a dapper and genteel fellow named William Thompson took to the streets of New York with a simple ruse. After some pleasant conversation, Thompson would ask a stranger, “Have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?” His marks didn’t just believe in him, but also in the premise behind his question—that cities weren’t Hobbesian jungles, but the sort of places where you could entrust your timepiece to a stranger. When he was arrested, a reporter for the New York Herald christened him “The Confidence Man.”
.. Confidence men are different from mere hustlers, whose tricks—such as pickpocketing—do all the work. Con men tailor their frauds to create a theatre of legitimacy. Bernie Madoff convinced thousands of savvy investors that he had intuited the secrets of the American financial system and could—against all common sense—deliver consistent, impossibly high returns.
.. What makes Regan unique, perhaps, is his seemingly genuine concern for his own reputation. When he’s accused of defrauding someone, stealing their furniture, cars, or rent, he fires back that the accusation is SLANDEROUS and has CAUSED DAMAGES. His confidence trick, then, isn’t just that he’s good for it—but that he’s good. His sense of dignity flows from himself into his victims, who are altogether unprepared to believe that a meticulously groomed white man is anything other than an honest gentleman.
.. Against the shabbiness of the tribunal room, he radiated not just style or wealth, but real authority.
.. Regan had spotted me making notes, and locked onto me with a predatory stare. He realized that, just as it had been for the original con man William Thompson, the press was an existential threat. Regan has learned to stickhandle everyone except journalists.
.. His cons have been machine-tooled to weaponize the justice system’s own sense of fair play and the safeguards of due process. He represents himself, but always claims to have a lawyer who can’t make his hearings, so he is allowed adjournment after adjournment.
.. he has learned that he doesn’t need to succeed in order to win a year’s rent.
.. Regan is the superbug produced by our legal hygiene, the crook cooked up by our civic decency. The journalist, however, can do what the courts cannot: expose his improprieties as evidence of bad faith in order to warn future victims.
.. His language is unlike anything I’ve ever heard—a pleonastic stream of legalese, which, if you’re not listening closely, can be hard to identify as the total and utter bullshit that it is. The words come so fast and sesquipedalian that they escape faithful transcription. It is the grammar of stalling, but it races right at you.
.. When Codjoe tried to keep Regan on point, he barked at her: “You’re being indignant, madam! You’re overstepping your boundary! We’re trying to accommodate the process, and it’s not your position—”
.. “I’m going to cut you off here—”
“No, I’m going to cut you off here!” Regan bellowed. “We’re putting you on notice!”
.. When Codjoe delivered her decision, she referred to Regan as “the tenant,” as is customary. This infuriated him. “Call me Mr. Regan.” She very pointedly continued to call him the tenant. He very pointedly insisted on being called Mr. Regan. “In life, you earn respect,” he growled. She dismissed his application. “I’ve been played here! I’ve been insulted! I don’t want to be accused in the cbc that I’m a person being seen to supersede process. I want to follow the rules!”
.. The night before, Regan had written the court to apprise it of the fact that he wouldn’t be able to attend the hearing because he’d scheduled a sports mediation for the same day. The court office ordered him to show up.
.. Regan said that he had representation, but that his lawyer hadn’t been able to make it to court on such short notice. He seemed insulted, adding, “I’ve put the counsel on notice and have reported them to the Law Society.”
So Justice Thorburn asked for his lawyer’s name. The question caused Regan to stammer. He offered the name of one lawyer, Howard Levitt, and then another, Allan Blott.
.. He started rifling through his papers, and they scattered and fell to the ground. Regan’s voice began to crack as he searched for something in his paperwork. “The problem with self-represented litigants like me…” I had to look up at his face to realize he was crying, his face red and swelling. Regan wept as he told the judge that he had a son and that his son was ashamed of him. “The only thing you have left in life,” he said through his tears, “is your reputation.”
Justice Thorburn cut in, reminding him to confine his remarks to submissions that would convince her of his appeal.
.. He normally swung from rental to rental as if from vine to vine, but the new Google search results associated with his name must have been making that next vine elusive.
Current US and EU emissions testing is insufficient to confirm compliance.
Auto manufacturers have been cheating on emissions control tests for decades, but until recently, their cheats were fairly simple. Temperature-sensing or time-delay switches could cut the emissions control system when a car was being driven under certain conditions.