Lawyerly Understatement

I missed delivering to you a wonderful, if also sick, punchline in the debate over whether Trump obstructed justice, continues to obstruct justice by willfully disobeying legal requests for documents and testimony and ordering everybody in his orbit to resist, to dummy up.   He is one lawyered up presumed-innocent guilty-acting motherfucker, I’ll say that for him.

Lawyers with any skill are masters of evasion, within the narrow bounds of truthfulness and their ethical responsibility the best of them can obscure the truth like nobody’s business.   Think of Bill Barr’s supremely misleading remarks at his confirmation hearing, Boof Kavanaugh’s tearful and evasive rant at the end of his sickening confirmation process.   Numerous demonstrable lies, but none, arguably, rising to the level of perjury.  A good lawyer knows how to walk purposefully up to the line of perjury and phrase things so his answer achieves the desired purpose without crossing the line.   

This ability to cavil [1], and the willingness to employ cant [2],  while directing attention away from damaging truth, is the main reason lawyers are so despised by so many.   Just make it plain, you lawyerly fuck.   There is even a movement, in law schools, to encourage young lawyers to write in plain English.   I don’t know how well it’s caught on.  Most of the legal writing I wade through is larded with conditional phrases, qualifiers, finely parsed distinctions, self-serving characterizations and shit like that.  We long for people to just speak plainly, just say what you mean, particularly lawmakers and government officials.  Speak plainly without lying– not a lot to ask, even from lawyers.  Plain talk is refreshing, it restores our faith in our human capacity to communicate openly.

Procol Harem’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” is apparently one of the most popular wedding songs of all time.   The band made many millions in royalties over the decades since the song was on the charts.   One member of the band, the organist who wrote the distinctive Bach-like intro, was not credited as one of the songwriters.  He received no royalty checks.   An interviewer spoke to him during his lawsuit against the others for the millions in back royalties he claimed were owed to him, and the right to future millions.   

The interviewer (you have to picture both of them as British, which they are, for the full effect) listened to his story and said “so, you’re saying they could have been more generous to you.”   

 “They could hardly have been less generous,” the uncredited songwriter replied. [3]

We have Robert Mueller, lifelong conservative and former FBI director, a public servant seemingly beyond reproach, a Marine and before that an Eagle Scout.   He investigated a president who was constantly trying to undermine his investigation, made several attempts to rig the outcome, including a few feints toward firing Mueller, actively discredited Mueller’s impartiality and eventually hired a faithful and dogged Attorney General who vowed to protect him no matter what the investigation found.   Mueller found a mountain of evidence of apparent presidential wrongdoing, but he obeyed a regulation that he said compelled him to abide by two OLC memos, both written during presidential impeachments, and from which he concluded he had an ethical and legal duty not put the president under an unfair cloud.  

Let’s be clear.   The president bragged about being ready to speak to Mueller any time, but his rotating army of lawyers (notice that nobody works for Trump for very long) vetoed that.  Trump, they all agreed, would be walking into a “perjury trap”.  We note that a “perjury trap” only works against a compulsive liar who has at least one dirty secret to hide.  The president consented to answer written questions from Mueller, questions he claimed, ridiculously, to have answered all by himself.

Fast forward past Bill Barr’s numerous infomercials for his boss’s exoneration by a disappointing Mueller who weakly punted responsibility to the A.G. to make a final, binding charging decision about the extent of the president’s arguable misconduct and his corrupt acts done with the power of the president of the United States.    This was a month before any part of the completed report was released to anyone but Trump’s lawyers, the only people so far to have seen the document before it was redacted.

Past Mueller’s remarkable letter to Barr, the letter that was not seen by the public until many weeks later.   Mueller’s letter was immediately after Barr’s public comments on the report.   Mueller contested Barr’s distorted mischaracterizations, informing him that his misleading remarks have caused public confusion and requesting again that Barr immediately release Mueller’s own redacted summaries.   The remarkable letter, a very important piece of evidence for Congress, is here.

Past the month that Barr waited to release anything from Mueller but his own deliberately misleading spin about COMPLETE AND TOTAL exoneration, which many Americans who will never even read an article about the 448 page report (“that speaks for itself”) believe to be unimpeachably true in spite of instance after instance, with names, dates, quotes from people involved, all fitting a larger, consistent, pattern of obstruction of justice.

Past the month after that, before it was revealed that Barr had perjured himself when he said under oath that he had no idea how Mueller felt about his characterization of the Special Counsel’s findings.   He mocked the question, in the way that religious men who believes they are carrying out the Lord’s will often do and got a laugh from the Republican peanut gallery in the Senate that day.   “How would I know what Bob thinks of my summary?”

Past the day, a month later, when the letter from Mueller (dated two months earlier) that told Bill exactly how Bob felt was revealed.  As soon as Bob heard Barr’s lying summary of his findings he wrote to correct the record.  Bob was angry enough to put it into writing, make a record that he was protesting this confusing mischaracterization of the investigation’s conclusions finally became public.   Mueller was obeying the best instinct of a law-abiding lawyer, he was making a record.   With luck, fifty years from now when everything is unsealed, posterity will know that Bob Mueller was, in the end, an honorable man.

Mueller got up in front of cameras, the day he retired from his role as Special Counsel, and spoke publicly for almost ten minutes.   His remarks were bookended by the continuing untruthful spin of the deeply religious, God-fearing protector of the Unitary Executive, William Barr.   Mueller spoke carefully, like a lawyer.  He may have reiterated that the president, rather than, as he claimed, fully cooperating with investigators, submitted answers that were “inadequate.”   I don’t think he cited the president’s refusal to answer follow up questions to remedy the inadequacy of his lawyers’ written answers.

“Inadequate”, that was how Mueller characterized the answers you can read here.

I was surprised to find the interrogatories on-line.   I’d heard that Trump’s attorneys had answered virtually every question with a variation on “I don’t recall”.   I scanned and found this to be true for every answer I read.   Mueller’s questions are detailed and lawyerly, a challenge to read, and in light of the evasive answers given, not worthwhile struggling to read.   

Trump’s team of lawyers worked hard to craft the carefully phrased answers, virtually all of which are variations of “I don’t recall” or “I have no specific recollection” or “for the life of me, I truly don’t remember” or “how do you expect me to remember a detail like that?   Wouldn’t that make me look guilty if I did remember doing that, fuckface?”

Here’s what you do, and I promise it is worth the payoff.  Quickly skim the questions, just looking for names you are familiar with, run your finger quickly down the questions.  You’ll see Manafort and Flynn and Jared asked about.   The president answers, under penalty of perjury, that he doesn’t recall anything and that he’s been informed his office has already fully cooperated and provided all necessary documents and information.  Publicly the president was whining daily about the unfair, illegal witch hunt against him which was so unfair and vicious and SAD!

Skip down to Mueller’s last long, complicated question.  It is about Michael Flynn, K.T. McFarland, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Jared Kushner, Erik Prince, “or anyone else associated with the transition”.   Follow your quick moving finger down  until you get to the president’s last “inadequate” answer.  GREAT SHIT!

Go read it now, quickly, just follow your finger to the bottom, it will take a minute.  Otherwise this next bit will be a spoiler.

Mueller could have told America, more accurately, truthfully, straightforwardly, unequivocally and unconfusingly:  “not only did the president refuse to cooperate with requests to speak to him directly, his legal team submitted evasive written answers pleading no memory of anything and, in one remarkable display of contempt I’ve never seen in my long career as an attorney and in law enforcement, refused to answer at all.  Not even another assertion about the presidents monumentally poor memory.   You figure it out, assholes!”

“Inadequate”?  Trump’s last written answer to the Mueller investigation  could hardly have been less adequate! 

click here for question and final answer


[1] cavil (v):    make petty or unnecessary objections.  complain, carp, grumble, moan, grouse, grouchwhinebleat, find fault with, quibble about, niggle about…

[2] cant (n — can also be used as a verb):  hypocritical and sanctimonious talk, typically of a moral, religious, or political nature;  the pretending of having virtues, principles, or beliefs that one in fact does not have; dissembling, dissimulation, hypocrisy, insincerity, false piousness    

words related to cant:  deceit, deceitfulness, deceptoin, deceptiveness, dishonesty, double-dealing, falsity, perfidy, two-fadednees, affedtation, affectedness, pretense, pretension, pretentiousness, sanctimoniousness, self-righteousness, self-satisfactoin, duplicity, fakery, falseness, fraudulentness, shamming, artificiality, glibness, oiliness, smoothness, unctuousness 

antonym: sincerity

[3]     from WIkipedia:

In 2005, former Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher filed suit in the High Court against Gary Brooker and his publisher, claiming that he co-wrote the music for the song.[44] Fisher won the case on 20 December 2006 but was awarded 40% of the composers’ share of the music copyright, rather than the 50% he was seeking and was not granted royalties for the period before 2005.[45]

Brooker and publisher Onward Music were granted leave to appeal, and a hearing on the matter was held before a panel of three judges during the week of 1 October 2007. The decision, on 4 April 2008, by Lord Justice Mummery, in the Court of Appeal upheld Fisher’s co-authorship[46] but ruled that he should receive no royalties as he had taken too long (38 years) to bring his claim to litigation. Full royalty rights were returned to Brooker.[47]

On 5 November 2008, Fisher was granted permission to appeal this decision to the House of Lords.[48] Lawyers say it is the first time the Law Lords have been asked to rule on a copyright dispute involving a song.[49] The appeal was heard in the House of Lords on 22–23 April 2009.[50]

On 30 July 2009 the Law Lords unanimously ruled in Fisher’s favour. They noted that the delay in bringing the case had not caused any harm to the other party; on the contrary he had benefited financially from it. They also pointed out that there were no time limits to copyright claims under English law. The right to future royalties was therefore returned to Fisher.[51][52] Both the musicological basis of the judgment and its effect on the rights of musicians who contribute composition to future works have drawn some attention in the music world.[53]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s