Over the weekend Donald Trump tweeted that he fired Michael Flynn because he knew Flynn had lied to the FBI. This proved that Trump knew Flynn had committed a crime when he asked the FBI to let Flynn off the hook, so the tweet was a confession to felony obstruction of justice. Trump then claimed his lawyer wrote the tweet, which was largely greeted with eye rolling and laughter. Now Trump and his team are trying an even more laugh-out-loud legal defense, which could cause serious problems for certain White House advisers.
White House Counsel Don McGahn is now acknowledging that he told Donald Trump that Michael Flynn had misled or lied to the FBI, according to a CNN report (link). However, McGahn is also asserting that he didn’t specifically explain to Trump that lying to the FBI is a crime. This forms the basis of Trump’s latest defense: he was too ignorant and stupid to have understood that Flynn had committed a crime. Legally speaking, this won’t fly – but it will cause internal problems.
Generally speaking, ignorance of the law is not considered a valid legal defense for having committed a crime. More specifically, Donald Trump cannot make a reasonable case that he didn’t know lying to the FBI was a crime, because he was in the charge of the FBI at the time. He may have the least knowledge about law and government of any modern U.S. President by far, but it’s still a given that he would understand something as basic as this. For that matter, anyone who ever watched an episode of a fictional crime drama would know that you can’t lie to a federal investigator.
This raises the question of just whom Donald Trump is trying to convince with these increasingly nonsensical legal defenses. Robert Mueller won’t buy it, the law in general won’t buy it, and the mainstream public won’t buy it. Trump appears to be, as usual, pandering solely to his base as the walls cave in on him.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report