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Famously, of course, William Jefferson Clinton was caught
covering his own ass in a gentleman's white lie regarding the honor of a young lady wherein he stated "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" while being interrogated about other matters (though this was in a press conference, not under oath). As for the actual legal testimony, we at the site will officially call it perjury, even if not actually the case. Fifty million dollars later, it was proved that he had, indeed, interfered with said woman's honor. So he was impeached Congress initiated impeachment proceedings against him and later he was acquitted of all charges.
Indictments for perjury are often paired with "obstruction of justice," at least in the US, since the process of lying under oath almost by definition obstructs the course of justice in a case.
In the Middle Ages, oaths were taken on relics. Thus, perjury was both a religious and a secular transgression, which usually carried the double penalty of excommunication and forfeiture of legal rights. This in turn meant that the perjurer would be unable to take oaths in future court trials, being instead forced to defend himself through the ordeal, single combat or similarly less-optimal means. Unless, of course, a saint descended from the heavens and smote the perjurer dead upon the spot with righteous fury. That happened only rarely, however, and was known as Argumentum e silentium.[note 1]
Variations on a theme
In the United States, perjury (18 U.S.C. § 1621) is not the only form of lying that is criminal.
- Perjury not only requires lying under oath, but it require that the lie was a material misstatement and that it was willful (that the person knowingly lied when they said the lie). For these reasons, perjury is extremely difficult to prove, and prosecutors will often try to prosecute other charges instead.
- Making "false statements" (18 U.S.C. § 1001) is "knowingly and willfully… [making] any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation… [regarding] any matter within the jurisdiction of the legislative branch." It is not required that the statement be under oath, and the law has a broad sweep.
- Other parts of US Code can also involve lies, including obstruction of justice (18 U.S.C. § 1505 and 18 U.S.C. § 1515(b)).
The obscure legal concept of a perjury trap was brought into public consciousness in 2018 by the Mueller investigation due to Trump's lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, claiming that Special Prosecutor Mueller was trying catch Trump with a perjury trap should he be interviewed under oath.
In law, a perjury trap occurs when a prosecutor calls a witness to testify under oath with the intent of coercing the witness to lie and thereby commit perjury. Although claims of a perjury trap are common when the testimony is before a grand jury, "…there are no federal cases granting a motion to dismiss because of a perjury trap. Defense counsel should never raise the perjury-trap defense."
Clearly, Giuliani's real fear was that because Trump is a pathological liar,[note 2] Trump would not be able to tell the truth under oath.
- Reagan Hazy On Iran-contra: Knowledge Of Diversion Is Denied by Janet Cawley & Linda P. Campbell (February 23, 1990) Chicago Tribune.
- Deuteronomy 19:18-19
- The Law of Lying: Perjury, False Statements, and Obstruction by Helen Klein Murillo (March 22, 2017, 9:30 AM) Lawfare.
- 18 U.S. Code § 1001 - Statements or entries generally
- The Trap of Giuliani's "Perjury Trap" Argument: Trump's television lawyer has long said that the special counsel is trying to catch the president in a lie if he sits for an interview. That's false. by Daniel S. Goldman (August 21, 2018) Brennan Center for Justice.
- The "Perjury Trap" by Bennett L. Gershman (1981) University of Pennsylvania Law Review 129(624).
- Debunking the Perjury-Trap Myth by Billy Joe McLain (2010) Texas Law Review 88(4).
- President Trump has made 10,796 false or misleading claims over 869 days by Glenn Kessler (June 10, 2019) The Washington Post.