Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz schooled CNN host Anderson Cooper Wednesday when Cooper asked him to “correct me” about whether special counsel Robert Mueller is setting a “perjury trap” for President Donald Trump.
“Professor, you use the term ‘perjury trap.’ It’s only a perjury trap if someone wants to perjure themselves, isn’t it? I mean, no one’s being forced to lie. I mean it’s a perjury trap — correct me,” Cooper asked Dershowitz on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°.”
And Dershowitz (pictured above left) delivered.
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Trump’s legal team is negotiating with Mueller’s team over whether Trump will sit down for an interview as part of the probe into allegations of collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russia during the U.S. 2016 presidential election.
The president’s lawyers want Mueller to stick to questions about collusion and refrain from asking Trump any obstruction of justice questions regarding his firing of FBI Director James Comey in May 2017.
But CNN reported Wednesday that Mueller has offered “to reduce the number of obstruction-related questions,” but would require some of the answers to be verbal — not written.
Dershowitz argued that asking under oath about Trump’s motives for firing Comey and his conversation with Comey about going easy on former national security adviser Michael Flynn represent “potential perjury traps.”
“Mueller is very smart to reduce the number if the result is that he can get Trump to sit down and talk to him,” Dershowitz said. “So, I think, in the end it’s going to be very unlikely that the lawyers will lose this battle, and the president will actually sit down and expose himself to a possible perjury trap.”
Cooper pushed back against the idea of Mueller’s setting a perjury trap for Trump, arguing that Trump would only be in danger of lying under oath because he is prone to exaggeration and stretching the truth. But when the CNN host asked Dershowitz to “correct me,” he did.
“Well, I will correct you,” Dershowitz replied. “If you have the president saying something that he believes is truthful, and then you have another witness, [former Trump lawyer Michael] Cohen or [former Trump campaign chairman Paul] Manafort or one of the others contradicting him without regard to who is telling the truth, you could get a perjury prosecution.”
“So I’ve often advised clients who have insisted to me that they will only tell the truth. I say to them, ‘But is it possible that any other witness will tell the truth different than yours?’ And if the answer to that is yes, in 53 years I’ve never had a client sit down with a prosecutor — innocent, guilty, or in-between,” Dershowitz added.
Although Dershowitz conceded that “the risks are lower” for testifying under oath if the person in question is “completely innocent,” he warned that risks still remain “even if you’re innocent” if “you have people that are being squeezed.”
Dershowitz pointed to Manafort, who began his trial Tuesday regarding bank fraud, money laundering, and unregistered foreign agent charges as part of Mueller’s probe.
“Remember that Judge [T.S.] Ellis [III] has said about Manafort that they’re not really interested in him. They’re trying to squeeze him,” Dershowitz said. “And he used the term, a term that I have used for years, saying sometimes you can coax a witness not only into singing, but composing. And if you can get a witness to compose, then it really does become a perjury trap.”
Former federal prosecutor Anne Milgram (pictured above right) disagreed with Dershowitz, saying “I think the way the professor’s describing perjury, it makes it seem like if there are two completely different version of events, someone can be charged with perjury.
“In my experience as a state and federal prosecutor, that’s not the case. To prove perjury is a very high standard, and you actually have to be able to prove to a jury that one version of events is false.”