On Monday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) moved to release a memo written by his staff that cherry-picks facts, ignores others and smears the FBI and the Justice Department — all while potentially revealing intelligence sources and methods. He did so even though he had not read the classified documents that the memo characterizes and refused to allow the FBI to brief the committee on the risks of publication and what it has described as “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” The party-line vote to release the Republican memo but not a Democratic response was a violent break from the committee’s nonpartisan tradition and the latest troubling sign that House Republicans are willing to put the president’s political dictates ahead of the national interest.
We know that to the media, since at least July 2016, Mr. Trump and campaign officials lied, repeatedly and often, about not having had contacts with Russian officials. As late as August 2017, President Trump held that line, telling The Wall Street Journal: “There’s nobody on the campaign that saw anybody from Russia. We had nothing to do with Russia.”
This sustained pattern of lying to the media about any Russian contacts was almost surely done by design and coordinated from within Mr. Trump’s inner circle.
Were statements to federal authorities also done by design and coordinated?
If you direct your attention to the series of known cases when Trump officials have not told the truth to the F.B.I. and to Congress about Russian contacts, what emerges is a likely conspiracy on the part of Mr. Trump’s inner circle to mislead federal officials.
That’s where the stakes could not be much higher for the White House. Not only is it a crime to lie to federal authorities; it’s also a crime to encourage others to do so, whether or not they follow through with crossing the line of perjury.
.. We have two undisputed cases, through the indictments of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, and George Papadopoulos, the former foreign policy adviser. It is difficult to see how the two men could expect to get away with it. Who would lie to the F.B.I. if one’s colleagues, interviewed at a later date, would contradict the false account of the same set of events?
.. We now know Mr. Flynn’s phone call during the transition in December 2016 with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, was coordinated with other senior transition officials meeting at Mar-a-Lago, in Florida. When it came to Mr. Flynn’s F.B.I. interview, a story was already in place. The day before, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, had adamantly denied that Mr. Flynn spoke to the Russians about sanctions. So to get away with lying to the F.B.I., whether or not he alerted White House officials to the meeting beforehand, Mr. Flynn would presumably have to count on the others sticking to that lie, too.
The same goes for Mr. Papadopoulos, who risked going to prison for lying to the F.B.I. As with Mr. Flynn, his communications with the Russians were well known and approved by senior campaign officials.
.. The pattern goes on from there. If Mr. Flynn was counting on others to cover his tracks, he seems to have calculated correctly. For example, K. T. McFarland, the former deputy national security adviser who also served on the transition team, told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, in writing, that she was not aware of Mr. Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador. That was a lie, disproved by court documents revealing her close strategizing with Mr. Flynn before and after the call and by the news report of her email coordinating on the matter with senior members of the Trump transition team at Mar-a-Lago. (Mr. Spicer was one of the email’s recipients.)
.. Perhaps Mr. Sessions felt he had to lie during his confirmation process. Mr. Trump had told reporters, at his first news conference as president-elect, that nobody associated with the campaign was in contact with any of the Russians.
.. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, skipped over multiple meetings with Russians on his security clearance forms, which were vetted by the F.B.I. Mr. Kushner’s omissions were so alarming that it caused Charles Phalen, the sitting director of the government bureau responsible for clearing these forms, to tell Congress, “I have never seen that level of mistakes.”
.. Finally, Donald Trump Jr. may also have lied to congressional investigators by testifying that he did not inform his father of the Trump Tower meeting with Russians. There is no hard public evidence to prove this, but it is hard to fathom that Don Jr. didn’t inform the candidate of a meeting that was set up on the proposal, as far as he knew, for the Russian government to aid the campaign and that he thought deserved the direct involvement of Paul Manafort, then the campaign manager, and Mr. Kushner.
In short, if you block out much of the noise that has surrounded the Russia investigation and focus on certain public information, you can see the outline of a concerted effort to mislead federal officials.
.. How could campaign officials, or the president himself, expect to get away with any such scheme, especially when encouraging others to commit perjury is a serious federal offense?
Maybe they didn’t anticipate a full investigation. The president admitted that he felt if Mr. Sessions had only held on, the attorney general would have shut down the Russia investigation: “If Jeff Sessions didn’t recuse himself, we wouldn’t even be talking about this subject.”
.. With Mr. Flynn, Mr. Papadopoulos and now Steve Bannon cooperating, if and when the time comes for Mr. Trump’s interview, Mr. Mueller’s team will be well prepared to ask the president about his own knowledge and involvement.