In the 1995 film Nixon, the President is depicted discussing the case of Daniel Ellsberg and how it related to the case of Alger Hiss. Nixon says that the issue the public latches on to is “the lie.” During a scandal is it lying that tends to settle whether a scandal moves forward or not.
In the case of Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor, he has pled guilty to lying to the FBI in discussing two conversations he had with the Russian Ambassador in December 2016. It is the lie that tripped him up. What he did may have been lawful. It isn’t connected directly to the larger Special Counsel investigation into Donald Trump’s campaign team and its connections to Russia before the election. The conversations Flynn is accused of lying about took place after the election. Nevertheless, the fact that he got caught in a lie has given the investigation legs and he is not cooperating with it.
NIXON But I wouldn't have if Hiss hadn't lied about knowing Chambers. The documents were old and out of date, like these Pentagon Papers. The key thing we proved was that Hiss was a liar. Then people bought it that he was a spy. (then) It's the lie that gets you.
The Hiss case
In the late 1940s Alger Hiss, a successful US diplomat, was accused of being a communist by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was also accused by Whittaker Chambers. Hiss sued Chambers for slander. However, during the trial a remarkable turn of events took place. Papers and film hidden in a pumpkin patch proved Hiss had been lying. “The papers and microfilms soon were authenticated, and Hiss was indicted for perjury–the statute of limitations for espionage during the 1930s having long expired–on 15 December. The formal charge, based on the Pumpkin Papers, was that he had lied when he told the grand jury that he neither seen Chambers nor passed documents to him in February and March 1938,” notes a CIA page on the case.
The Clinton case
US President Bill Clinton was also almost brought down by lying. In 1998 Special Counsel Kenneth Starr accused the president of lying to a grand jury. Clinton was impeached on December 19, 1998, by the House of Representatives on grounds of perjury to a grand jury. It was the lie that got him, not the act itself. He was accused of lying about sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.
It’s the lie
Both Clinton and Hiss might have done better had they not lied. There are many other cases like this, but all of them are similar to the case of Flynn. In his case we may never know how things would have turned out had he simply told the truth about his interactions with the ambassador in January when he spoke with the FBI. He resigned as National Security Advisor because of lying to the Vice-President.
Now the lie will eat its way closer to the current US administration The case of George Papadopoulos is similar, he also pleaded guilty to perjury. It seems Trump’s team has a lying problem, as much as it has accusations of a Russia problem.