Trump’s ‘great’ mem­ory lapsed in re­sponse to Mueller’s queries

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY PETER BAKER

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has boasted at var­i­ous points that he has “one of the great mem­o­ries of all time” or even “the world’s great­est mem­ory.”

But the world’s great­est mem­ory failed him re­peat­edly when prose­cu­tors asked him those clas­sic ques­tions from decades of pres­i­den­tial scan­dals – what did he know and when did he know it?

Trump re­fused for more than a year to be in­ter­viewed by the spe­cial coun­sel, Robert Mueller, and in the end agreed to re­spond to ques­tions only in writ­ing. Even then, with the help of his lawyers, the pres­i­dent found it dif­fi­cult to sum­mon de­tails from his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 2016 that might shed light on what hap­pened.

More than 30 times he told the prose­cu­tors that he had no mem­ory of what they were ask­ing about, em­ploy­ing sev­eral for­mu­la­tions to make the same point.

“I do not re­mem­ber.” “I do not re­call.”

“I have no rec­ol­lec­tion.” “I have no in­de­pen­dent rec­ol­lec­tion.”

“I have no cur­rent rec­ol­lec­tion.”

He did not re­mem­ber learn­ing about a Trump Tower meet­ing held in June 2016 by his son, sonin-law and cam­paign chair­man with vis­it­ing Rus­sians promising “dirt” on Hil­lary Clin­ton from the Rus­sian govern­ment. He did not re­mem­ber be­ing told in ad­vance of Rus­sian hack­ing of Demo­cratic emails be­fore the stolen mes­sages were posted on­line.

He did not re­mem­ber any par­tic­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions with Roger Stone, a long­time ad­viser, dur­ing the last months of the cam­paign, much less dis­cus­sions with him about Wik­iLeaks. He did not re­mem­ber dis­cussing a pos­si­ble trip to Rus­sia to pro­mote a pro­posed tower project in Moscow. He did not re­mem­ber an in­vi­ta­tion from Rus­sia’s deputy prime min­is­ter to at­tend an eco­nomic fo­rum in St. Petersburg.

A fuzzy mem­ory is not ex­actly un­usual for any pres­i­dent given how much they typ­i­cally jug­gle, much less a 72-year-old pres­i­dent who is the old­est ever elected for the first time. But Mueller’s prose­cu­tors con­sid­ered his mem­ory lapses un­sat­is­fy­ing and pressed Trump’s lawyer again for an in-per­son in­ter­view, to no avail.

“The writ­ten re­sponses, we in­formed coun­sel, ‘demon­strate the in­ad­e­quacy of the writ­ten for­mat, as we have had no op­por­tu­nity to ask fol­low-up ques­tions that would en­sure com­plete an­swers and po­ten­tially re­fresh your client’s rec­ol­lec­tion or clar­ify the ex­tent or na­ture of his lack of rec­ol­lec­tion,’ ” Mueller’s re­port said.

Jay Seku­low, one of Trump’s pri­vate lawyers, de­fended his client’s an­swers Fri­day. “The pres­i­dent re­sponded to the ques­tions,” he said. “They are an­swers, not spec­u­la­tions.”

Lawyers of­ten ad­vise clients to avoid de­fin­i­tive an­swers if they are not sure about a ques­tion and to couch de­nials by say­ing they can­not re­call an event lest con­trary ev­i­dence emerge. A vet­eran of lit­i­ga­tion, Trump rarely lacks for cer­tainty in his pub­lic state­ments on cam­era, but has shown more cau­tion when un­der oath.

He said, “I don’t re­mem­ber” 24 times dur­ing a 2012 de­po­si­tion in a law­suit in­volv­ing his nowde­funct Trump Univer­sity and 35 times dur­ing another de­po­si­tion re­lated to the univer­sity suit three years later, not counting 10 more times in the two in­ter­views that he said, “I don’t re­call” or “Can’t re­mem­ber.” (He even­tu­ally set­tled the le­gal claims for $25 mil­lion.)

Prose­cu­tors said such se­lec­tive mem­ory tended to make them sus­pi­cious.

“It’s al­ways a red flag when a wit­ness ap­pears to se­lec­tively for­get the events most likely to be (dam­ag­ing),” said Dwight C. Holton, who spent 14 years as a pros­e­cu­tor, most re­cently as U.S. at­tor­ney in Ore­gon.

“And when you have a wit­ness who re­peat­edly and pub­licly thumps his chest about how great his mem­ory is, then all of a sud­den he has sud­den mas­sive mem­ory loss – well, let’s just say that’s a tar­get I’d like to cros­sex­am­ine in front of a jury.”

Bar­bara L. McQuade, a for­mer U.S. at­tor­ney in Michi­gan, said the pres­i­dent’s an­swers “demon­strate why writ­ten an­swers are a poor sub­sti­tute for an in-per­son in­ter­view.”

Dur­ing a face-to-face en­counter, she said, prose­cu­tors can re­fresh a wit­ness’s mem­ory by pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional de­tails or show­ing him doc­u­ments. They can also come to a judg­ment based on body lan­guage.

“I have not dealt with a wit­ness who has claimed not to re­mem­ber facts as many times as Trump did, but it is im­pos­si­ble to read a wit­ness’s mind to know whether he is telling the truth,” she said. “Trump’s re­fusal to par­tic­i­pate in an in­ter­view,” she added, “ham­pered Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion and con­tra­dicts” the as­ser­tion by At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr that the pres­i­dent had co­op­er­ated fully.

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