President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani has said repeatedly that an interview between Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller would be a “perjury trap.” Others have noted that an easy way to avoid perjury is to tell the truth.
It’s only a “perjury trap” if you’re a damn liar.
— John Dingell (@JohnDingell) August 9, 2018
Anyone who grew up with “The People’s Court” knows that perjury is telling a lie under oath. You can perjure yourself in court, in signed documents, during an FBI interview or in a Congressional hearing. So what if President Trump did perjure himself — what would happen? What kind of a crime is perjury, and what are the potential penalties?
Is perjury a felony?
Yes. Under federal law, perjury is considered a felony and can result in fines and a prison term of up to five years. Individual jurisdictions have latitude to define and punish perjury as they see fit. (One extreme example: An archaic California law says that perjury leading to someone’s execution can itself be punished with the death penalty.)
“Perjury is considered a crime against justice, since lying under oath compromises the authority of courts, grand juries, governing bodies, and public officials,” says FindLaw.com, adding that it “is a strange crime, as it’s rarely charged and even harder to prove.”
That’s because witnesses and defendants give incorrect testimony all the time due to faulty memory; to prove perjury, prosecutors must prove an intent to deceive.
Does the ‘perjury trap’ really exist?
Yes, says Jonathan Chait of New York magazine. “A perjury trap is a real thing. The term describes when prosecutors lure a witness into giving false testimony, usually for reasons other than covering up a crime, knowing they can prove the claim was false, and then nail them for perjury,” he writes, citing President Clinton being questioned about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
But that was then, and this is now, he adds: “Asking Trump about his attempt to manipulate his FBI director is not a perjury trap. The question is not extraneous to a crime, it is a crime.”