“Truth isn’t truth,” declared Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney, on Meet the Press on Sunday. Giuliani’s comment — the weirdest absolution yet proffered for Trump — is the “Trump era’s epitaph,” according to a Washington Post columnist. But truth really is defined differently inside the Beltway.
Trump could face a “perjury trap” from Special Counsel Robert Mueller because of the unique way that the FBI defines reality — and the truth. The FBI rarely records interviews and instead relies on written summaries (known as Form 302s) which “are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations,” the New York Times noted last year. Though defense attorneys routinely debunk the accuracy and credibility of 302s, prosecutors continue touting FBI interview summaries as the voice of God. Even if Trump made factually correct comments to Mueller, he could still face legal peril if his statements failed to harmonize with FBI “trust me on what I heard” memos containing contrary assertions.
Though other federal agencies cannot play the 302 game, they have plenty of options for editing the public record. Inside the Beltway, “plausible deniability” (a phrase first publicly used by CIA chief Allen Dulles in the 1950s) is “close enough for government work” to truth.
Congress enacted the Freedom of Information Act in 1966 to boost self-government by entitling Americans to learn what Washington did in their name. But FOIA is derided nowadays as a “Freedom From Information Act” that begets merely a mirage of transparency. Last year, individuals who filed FOIA requests “received censored files or nothing in 78 percent” of the time, according to the Associated Press. Federal agencies with the most power — such as the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the Justice Department — are among the worst FOIA abusers.