President Trump’s habit of skirting the truth is reputed to give way to candor under oath. But this reputation is doubted by some attorneys ahead of a possible Trump interview with special counsel Robert Mueller.
Under oath, Trump has been described as a different person, admitting mistruths and giving statements such as, “I’m no different from a politician running for office. You always want to put the best foot forward."
But Trump's records in civil depositions include dubious claims. He said he’d be unable to recognize a felonious former business partner who worked out of Trump Tower, and allegedly invented discussions he said overrode a contractual agreement.
Dan Ackman, an attorney who deposed Trump in 1992 during a bankruptcy case involving the Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, said he believes Trump has an undeserved reputation for acing depositions.
“During his deposition, he seemed to invent conversations that no one else, either in his company or his adversary’s company, recalled,” said Ackman, who took a summer associate to Trump Tower for the interview.
“He invented conversations concerning the scope of his contractual obligation,” Ackman said.
A settlement was reached shortly after Ackman deposed Trump, and his suggestion that Trump lied wasn’t litigated. A longtime Trump attorney didn't immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
In another allegedly untruthful deposition statement, Trump said in 2013 he hardly knew Felix Sater, a businessman with whom Trump’s business worked on a New York real estate deal. Sater was convicted of stabbing a man with a margarita glass and of a stock-fraud scheme.
“If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like,” Trump said in the deposition. The two men had been photographed together. Two attorneys involved in taking Trump’s deposition declined to comment.
More general questions of honesty are contested in lawsuits involving Trump.
When a Florida real estate deal fell collapsed, Trump’s team didn’t disclose an insurance policy to attorneys suing him. His attorney, Alan Garten, said it was his fault, not Trump’s, amid theories that Trump wanted to avoid a blow to his prestige in settling, which may have been more likely had the insurer been implicated.
An attorney in that case, Elizabeth Lee Beck, had recently given birth when Trump gave a deposition in 2011, before the insurance policy was known. Trump called her request to use a breast pump “disgusting” and left the room.
“MAYBE, just maybe, if Trump got properly sanctioned in that case, then y'all pack of hyenas wouldn't be sniffing around me now,” Beck said in an email.
In civil matters, lies typically do not result in a perjury prosecution, meaning Trump’s record of depositions — 100 as of 2012, he said — without a single perjury charge doesn’t necessary indicate he’s a careful truth-teller.
“It’s pretty common for lawyers in any kind of litigation to try to catch the other side in a lie,” Ackman said. “Lies are not uncommon in life, but you can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times someone is criminally prosecuted for perjury in a civil action in a given year.”
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said “it is often up to the judge” whether to refer mistruths in civil lawsuit depositions for prosecution, and that judges often don’t pursue charges.
In civil cases, “false or misleading statements are often raised to undermine a witness or party before a court or jury,” Turley said.
“The penalty is more often the loss of credibility and a more harsh treatment on damages. I have had clear perjury cases in civil hearings with no referral from the court,” he said.