Bill Clinton made a number of memorable comments over his years in public life, from “I feel your pain” to “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” But I think we all know that the one he will be most remembered for is this infamous line: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky, and I never told anyone to lie, not even once.” That will probably be in the first paragraph of his obituary.
Donald Trump has made so many inane, dishonest comments that it would take days to lay them all out. But it’s not impossible that one of the most memorable will be something he said on Thursday in an interview with Fox News’ Harris Faulkner, which has some obvious echoes of Bill Clinton’s ill-fated line.
When asked about the Southern District of New York’s announcement that his former friend David Pecker, CEO of American Media, the company that publishes the National Enquirer, had corroborated Michael Cohen’s testimony that Trump had arranged hush money payments as part of the election campaign, Trump said this: “I don’t think they even paid any money to that tabloid, OK. I don’t think we’ve made a payment to that tabloid.”
He added later, “Let me tell you, I never directed him to do anything wrong,” in reference to Cohen.
It’s hard to believe that Trump coincidentally use such similar phrasing, but it’s reasonable to assume he had no idea he’d done it. As usual, Trump was simply dancing as fast as he could to reassure his followers that there’s nothing to any of this except a lawyer who lied to get a lighter sentence. Somewhere in his subconscious, he probably knows he’s in a similar fix to the one Clinton faced 20 years ago.
Trump’s entire commentary about Cohen to Faulkner was unintentionally self-incriminating. He first claimed that Cohen was a low-level nobody, just a PR guy:
He did very low level work. … He did more public relations than he did law. But he did — so if you’d see him on television, he was OK on television, but years ago, many years, like 12, 13 years ago, he did me a favor. He was on a committee and he was so responsive and so good. And I said, he’s a nice guy.
Later in the interview, he claimed that he put his faith in this low-level PR guy to follow federal campaign finance laws:
He’s a lawyer. A lawyer who represents a client is supposed to do the right thing. That’s why you pay them a lot of money, etc., etc. He is a lawyer. He represents a client. I never directed him to do any incorrect or wrong. And he understands that.
Cohen actually doesn’t “understand” that. He just pleaded guilty to carrying out Trump’s order to violate the law and he’s going to prison for three years. Even some commentators on Fox News were clear on how bad the news was for the president:
Being the classy statesman that he is, Trump also took a shot at Cohen’s wife and father-in-law in the Faulkner interview, suggesting that Cohen testified that Trump ordered him to break the law in order to protect his family from prosecution. Even the mafia doesn’t go after the families.