Avoiding Charges of Perjury: 3 Tips and Tricks

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on March 02, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Avoiding perjury can be a tricky thing, especially if you're a high-ranking public official. Whether you're testifying before a grand jury or the subject of a Congressional hearing, you can expect to face hours of probing. It's almost hard not to slip up and misstate a few essential facts, right?

Don't worry, though. If you ever find yourself questioned about secret White House tapes or clandestine talks with your Russian counterparts, we've got your back. Here are three tips and tricks to help you survive even the toughest scrutiny and come out perjury-free.

1. Don't Lie Under Oath

Our first tip comes from the grandfather of all political scandals: Watergate. Indeed, without President Nixon's involvement in a minor break-in at the Watergate Hotel, we would have never had scandal names like Nannygate, Benghazigate, or Pizzagate. And the perjury lesson from Watergate is pretty simple: don't lie under oath. (Don't obstruct justice and provoke a Constitutional crisis are two other important lessons.)

No one learned that lesson better than many of President Nixon's closest aides and associates. John N. Mitchell, Nixon's attorney general, H.R. Haldeman, Nixon's Chief of Staff, John Ehrlichman, Nixon's counsel, and more, all ended up being convicted of perjury by the end of Watergate.

Nixon himself avoided claims of perjury, easily. He didn't lie under oath. In fact, he never testified under oath at all.

2. Don't Lie Under Oath

If only President Clinton had the same foresight as Nixon. He didn't and was eventually impeached by the House of Representatives for perjury and obstruction of justice. The charges arose out of misleading statements about his affair with Monica Lewinsky that the president gave during a deposition and grand jury hearing.

Clinton's perjury charges resulted in him becoming the second president ever impeached by the House. (The first was Andrew Johnson. Nixon avoided impeachment by resigning.) The charges didn't stick though. Clinton was acquitted by the Senate, with 45 senators voting to convict on the perjury charge, and 55 against.

3. Ne Lgi Pod Prisyagoy

Our final tip for avoiding accusations of perjury is, again, don't lie under oath -- or as the Russians say ne lgi pod prisyagoy. (Alright, that's at least what Google Translate says the Russians say.)

That would have been good advice to give Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who allegedly failed to report multiple meetings with a Russian diplomat during the Trump campaign. Those meetings were revealed yesterday, just a few weeks after Sessions testified during his confirmation hearings that he had no such contact.

The unfolding scandal could put a kink into Session's plans as attorney general. General Mike Flynn was forced to resign after he lied about talking to the same Russian ambassador. Some prominent Republicans are already calling for Sessions to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the election. Some Democrats are demanding that Sessions follow Flynn's lead and resign, too.

And to think, he could have avoided all this trouble by following any one of our three simple tips and tricks.

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