On the eve of his eventual impeachment, President Donald Trump sent Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) an exclamatory six-page letter. While the letter was widely denounced for lacking a modicum of decorum, one of Robert Mueller’s former top lieutenants from the Russia investigation, pointed out a glaring omission in the Trump missive: a denial.
Appearing on MSNBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd Friday evening, Andrew Weissmann, previously dubbed Mueller’s “legal pit bull,” noted that behind the chaos and vitriol of Trump’s letter, the language– at least in one aspect – is carefully crafted so that Trump never denies that he attempted a quid pro quo deal for his personal and political benefit. The reason, according to Weissmann, is that doing so would have been a federal crime.
“I thought the wording of this [letter] was really important,” Weissmann said.
“So, the President, in his six-page letter, never said something that he has repeatedly said in other contexts, which is that there was ‘no quid pro quo.’ The question is why is that not in a letter that went to Congress. And I think the answer to that is: it is a federal crime to submit a written document knowingly that contains a false statement to Congress.”
Weissmann then highlights the guileful manner in which Trump selectively quotes other people defending his conduct rather than issuing yet another categorical denial of wrongdoing.
“Instead of the President simply saying, ‘there was no quid pro quo,’ he instead says ‘I’m not going to directly say that, I’m just going to tell you that there was another witness who said that was what I said’ – so that it is literally true without him actually committing the crime of saying there was no quid pro quo,” he said.
Looking at the letter, Weissmann’s view appears to hold up. The only time Trump directly addresses his phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, he categorizes the call as a “totally innocent conversation,” then issues a nebulous rebuttal, writing “and you know from the transcript (which was immediately made available) that the paragraph in question was perfect.” (Note: the White House released a memo of Trump’s call, not a verbatim transcript.)
The letter’s ensuing quid pro quo denials are all direct quotes from Zelensky, Sen. Ron Johnson, and U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who testified that Trump told him he wanted “no quid pro quo” in a phone call. However, the president failed to mention Sondland not only testified that Trump did want a quid pro quo deal with Ukraine, but that since his testimony, evidence has emerged showing the call during which Trump allegedly said he wanted “no quid pro quo” likely never happened.
[image via Olivier Douliery-Pool_Getty Images]
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