Will the collusion probe come down to a memory test? CNN got some inside skinny from “two sources familiar with the matter” about Donald Trump’s written answers to special counsel Robert Mueller. They report that Trump has denied knowing anything in advance about Wikileaks’ release of e-mails from the DNC and John Podesta, nor about the infamous Trump Tower meeting between Natalia Veselnitskaya and three top Trump campaign officials.
That is, Trump denies it to the best of his recollection:
President Donald Trump told special counsel Robert Mueller in writing that Roger Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks, nor was he told about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son, campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
One source described the President’s answers without providing any direct quotes and said the President made clear he was answering to the best of his recollection. …
The President’s lawyers previously told CNN the answers would match his public statements. Still, these written answers could be subject to criminal charges if false.
In case you’re wondering, “to the best of my recollection” isn’t a complete defense against a perjury or obstruction charge. CNN notes that attorneys will counsel clients to preface answers as subject to perhaps fallible memory as a means of dealing with challenges to such statements. It’s a little more cooperative than “I don’t remember,” an answer which would hardly help Trump in this context. It does give some room for maneuvering if a client gets caught in a perjury trap, but if a prosecutor can establish that the subject did have proper recall or should have, a jury might well conclude that “to the best of my recollection” is a lie in itself.
This is one reason not to provide such answers in the first place. The second-best option is to have your attorney answer for you, which is apparently what Trump did with his written responses to Mueller. If these statements hold up, it makes it tougher to construct a collusion case around Wikileaks, Manafort, and the Trump Tower meeting.
But do they hold up? Soon-to-be House intel chair Adam Schiff isn’t persuaded, and hinted that it might contradict testimony given to the committee:
Adam Schiff told me that Trump’s written responses to Mueller are “not adequate” and his panel would be pursuing phone records to learn the identity of the blocked number of the individual Don Jr spoke with potentially about the Trump Tower meeting.
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 28, 2018
Schiff on Corsi: “It also suggest that Roger Stone’s testimony before our committee may have been far less than truthful, it’s important to provide that testimony to the special counsel so that a determination can be made about whether any witness committed perjury fraud.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 28, 2018
That refers a separate issue emerging this week about e-mails between Stone and Corsi, one that so far has no connection to Trump himself. Corsi e-mailed Stone about a pair of upcoming Wikileaks releases that would be “very damaging” to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Mueller’s office has taken a keen interest in these communications:
The correspondence forms part of Mr Mueller’s broader investigation into Russian election meddling and any possible collusion with Trump campaign officials.
“Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps,” one email written on 2 August says. “One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct.”
He added, “Impact planned to be very damaging.”
Mr Stone has denied any involvement in the release of the emails.
By August 2nd, however, the DNC e-mails had been out in the open for nearly two months. It was a very common assumption over the summer that they would have more to release. Corsi may have had sources with this information, but that doesn’t necessarily connect dots to a collusion case, with or without Trump. (Corsi says he was merely passing along speculation to Stone, who ignored him.)
One has to wonder about the strategy behind this leak. It’s almost certainly not coming from Mueller, which means it’s almost certainly coming from Trump’s legal and/or political team. It comes as Trump’s ramping up his attacks on Mueller again, both in his own words and in, ah, questionable choices in retweets. Perhaps the idea was to emphasize the “witch hunt” from the “Angry Mueller Gang of Dems” by releasing Trump’s denials, but the watered-down aspect of best recollection hardly sounds like a position of strength.
And it prompts the question: why aren’t they discussing the other answers?