“Why is it lie after lie after lie”

Yesterday, Fox News renegade Shep Smith went on a mini-rant about Donald Trump. “If there’s nothing there…why all these lies?” he asked Chris Wallace. “Why is it lie after lie after lie?” Aaron Blake of the Washington Post comments:

Most journalists are reluctant to use the L-word — “lie.” This blog has covered the administration’s contradictory claims and misleading statistics regularly, but calling something a lie implies you know that it was intended to deceive. An exasperated Smith had clearly had enough of dancing around that word on Friday afternoon.

Journalists are reluctant to call something a lie, and with good reason. To be a lie, something has to be incontrovertibly untrue and the speaker has to know it’s untrue. Politicians say incontrovertibly untrue things frequently, but it’s the second part of this formula that trips us up. Short of mind reading, how can we know that they were aware of the falsehood?

Occasionally, of course, we really can know for sure. Most of the time, though, we just have to do our best, and we have to apply a standard of “beyond reasonable doubt,” not “beyond all possible doubt.”

In the case of Don Jr. and the meeting with the Russian attorney, we have proof beyond a reasonable doubt. We know that his first statement was not off the cuff, but carefully crafted on Air Force One by the White House. He said it was just a quick meeting about Russian adoptions. The next day, after the New York Times demonstrated this was untrue, he admitted it was actually about getting dirt on Hillary. Two days later, after the Times once again poked holes in his story, he released emails showing that he knew beforehand it was part of a Russian government effort to smear Hillary Clinton.

At each step along the way, he admitted only what he had to. He revealed more only when forced by the Times. No reasonable person thinks he just forgot about all this until the Times jogged his memory. He was, obviously, lying.

More generally, Donald Trump Sr. has told so many untruths, and continued telling them even after they were thoroughly called out, that we have to assume he does it on purpose. It’s not beyond all possible doubt that he’s really so clueless that he doesn’t realize what he’s doing. But it is beyond any reasonable doubt. At this point, it’s fair for our default judgment to be that when Trump says something untrue, he’s lying and he knows it.

Either that or he’s clinically delusional, in which case he needs to be removed from office. Take your pick.