Legendary journalist Carl Bernstein, who helped break the Watergate story along with Bob Woodward, shared a bit of advice for reporters gathered for the 2017 White House correspondents dinner.
“When lying is combined with secrecy, there is usually a pretty good road map in front of us. Yes, follow the money, but follow also the lies,” Bernstein said.
That may be easier said than done, as it seems the Trump administration has disseminated about as many lies in six months as most administrations would in a full term. But putting aside all of the ridiculous and petty lies about crowd sizes and popularity, there’s an ever-growing list of substantive lies that have been told regarding the Russia scandal that merit closer examination.
That list grew by one on Monday when the Washington Post reported that Trump dictated Don Jr.’s initial statement regarding his meeting with a Russian lawyer, despite multiple assertions made by his lawyer, Jay Sekulow, that Trump was not involved in anyway.
From the break, Trump was clearly trying to distance himself from a story he and his team knew could be damaging. There were adamant denials that Trump had any knowledge of the meeting at the time it occurred, and we were expected to believe that Don Jr. handled the fallout completely on his own without any input from his father.
On Meet the Press, Sekulow said as much in no uncertain terms.
"I do want to be clear the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement," he said.
Four days earlier, Sekulow had this to say in response to a question from George Stephanopoulos on ABC: “The president didn't sign off on anything. He was coming back from the G-20 [summit], the statement that was released on Saturday, was released by Donald Trump Jr. and, I'm sure, in consultation with his lawyers. The president wasn't involved in that.”
We have now learned, that was a lie. According to “multiple people with personal knowledge of the situation,” Donald Trump, on the flight home from the G20 meeting in Germany, personally dictated the statement in which Trump Jr. said they were strictly talking about Russian kids, which we now know to have been a straight up, bold faced lie.
So in other words, the administration lied about who crafted their own lies.
This is of course in and of itself not a crime, but this is yet another attempt to hide the truth about contacts with Russia, and this was a lie that came straight from the horse's mouth.
Just think about how far this has gone: From “there were no meetings,” to “a meeting happened but it was only about Russian adoption, Hillary dirt was never mentioned,” to “a meeting happened and Hillary dirt was promised but it wasn't provided, but also Trump senior wasn't involved in anything,” to “a meeting happened and the pretense was Hillary dirt being offered by the Russian Government in an effort to help your campaign and Trump Senior came up with the statement about the meeting which was a lie...but there's nothing to see here.”
And now we're supposed to believe the guy who came up with a statement about what happened at a meeting that he wasn’t present for and supposedly didn't know anything about?
Trump drafting this statement amounts to the president of the United States intentionally deceiving the American people. One of his own advisors, who spoke to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity said as much.
“Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth,” the advisor said.
As John Oliver coined it, this scandal really is “stupid Watergate,” a scandal with all the serious implications of Watergate, just with stupid people.
And now, the stupid Watergate revelations have worked their way all the way up to the top of the food chain.
There’s plenty of secrecy and plenty of lying here, but there’s also one extra ingredient that Woodward and Bernstein didn’t have as much access to when they broke Watergate, and that it sheer stupidity and incompetence.
If Trump does go down for this, that stupidity, combined with hubris, could be what does it.