What Is ‘Suborning Perjury?’ A Quick Explainer, And Why It’s Relevant Now

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If you woke up this morning looking at your social media news feed wondering what “suborning” means, you’re probably not alone.

The word suborning, alongside the more common word perjury, is making the rounds today. Although not necessarily a trending word at this moment, it was being discussed enough online that Merriam-Webster Dictionary sent out a tweet explaining what the term “suborn” means.

So what is it? The word “suborn” on its own means “to induce secretly to do an unlawful thing,” according to Merriam-Webster’s website definition of the word. Most typically, however, as you’ve probably already inferred, the word is seen with another criminal act: perjury.

To “suborn perjury” means to tell or coerce someone else to lie under oath when they’re about to give testimony. And it’s a very big deal.

The federal statutes on the crime stipulate that a person can serve up to five years in prison if they’re caught trying to influence someone to lie under oath, according to previous reporting from the Inquisitr. And that’s just for the simple crime of “suborning perjury” — other crimes can be included along with it, not the least of which can be charges of obstruction of justice.

By now you’re probably wondering, “Okay, cool, I learned a new word. Why is it important today?” A recent report from BuzzFeed News late on Thursday evening supplies the answer to that question.

According to that report, President Donald Trump allegedly told his former “fixer” lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about how long the Trump Organization had been trying to get a Trump Tower deal made between them and the Russian government. Trump had said during his presidential campaign many times he had no business dealings with Russia, when as late as June 2016 — right as he secured the Republican nomination for president — Trump’s business had, in fact, been making efforts to get a Trump Tower built in Moscow.

When Cohen testified before Congress, he lied about how long those negotiations had lasted, saying that they ended in January 2016 — right before the Iowa caucuses began. He admitted to lying at the end of November in 2018, and the BuzzFeed News report from Thursday alleges that Cohen did so at the behest of Trump telling him to lie, per law enforcement officials with knowledge of the ordeal.

The president should probably be concerned about these allegations, especially since, according to the report from BuzzFeed News, there appears to be both corroborating witnesses and physical evidence that details his orders to Cohen to lie.

If proven true, the punishment of up to five years in prison renders this case as a felony (all federal crimes with punishments of over a year in prison are considered such), and thus, could fall under the purview of “high crimes and misdemeanors” established under the Constitutional provisions of impeachment.

According to the Justice Department’s website, to establish a case of suborning perjury, a prosecutor must establish three items:

  • that an individual did indeed commit perjury;
  • that the defendant procured the information in a corrupt way, and knew that the info they were supplying to the person testifying was false;
  • and that the defendant knew that the person giving the testimony also understood the information was false.

The crime of suborning perjury doesn’t require physical coercion or threats of harm (bodily or otherwise) in order to be prosecuted, the Justice Department adds.