Opinion

Consciousness of guilt

Why has President Trump spent two years trying to halt, control, and discredit the Russia investigation?

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

Before he was muzzled for excessive candor a few weeks ago, Rudy Giuliani made a startling concession. "I never said there was no collusion between the campaign" and Russia, President Trump's lawyer said. He was only saying that Trump himself hadn't colluded with Russia. The reasons for this tactical retreat have become obvious. Last week, a federal judge ruled that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had repeatedly lied to prosecutors about his contacts with a Russian agent, Konstantin Kilimnik. As campaign chairman, Manafort gave Kilimnik "very detailed" polling data and discussed a "peace plan" for Ukraine favorable to Vladimir Putin. Special counsel Robert Mueller's team also revealed last week that it had proof that Trump adviser Roger Stone had direct contact with Russian hackers who stole Democratic emails and with WikiLeaks, which later published them. During this time, Stone admits, he frequently spoke to his pal Trump.

During trials, prosecutors often cite a legal concept called "consciousness of guilt." When a defendant repeatedly lies about his behavior or orchestrates a cover-up, it suggests he knows he committed crimes. Soon after he took office, Trump took extraordinary steps to halt the investigation into Russia's attack on the election, and celebrated his firing of FBI Director Jim Comey with Russia's grinning ambassador in the Oval Office, saying "great pressure" had been "taken off." Trump's obstruction was so flagrant, former FBI acting director Andrew McCabe reveals in a new book, it led top FBI and Justice Department officials to wonder if the president was "a Russian asset." Over the past two years, Trump has publicly attacked the Russia investigation more than 1,100 times. He has berated a succession of underlings for failing to protect him from Mueller and other investigations. What does this indicate about what Trump thinks about his innocence or guilt?

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