BOSTON (CBS) – “Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive!”
– Sir Walter Scott
To the cynics, the concept of lying to Congress may seem like a redundancy, like selling ice-makers to Eskimos.
But former Trump personal lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen’s surprise guilty plea Thursday morning in a New York federal court to lying to Congress about the then-presidential candidate’s financial interests in Russia is no joke.
We’re still digesting the details, but Cohen’s testimony about what he knew about negotiations for the Trump organization to build Europe’s tallest building – and when he briefed Donald Trump about them – provides a potentially damning link between Trump and the Russians and contradicts a multitude of public statements by the president and others in his circle.
As a seemingly prescient story by the website Buzzfeed last May put it:
“Talks to construct the 100-story building continued even as the presidential candidate alternately bragged about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and rejected suggestions of Russian influence, and as Russian agents worked to sway US public opinion on Trump’s behalf….documents obtained exclusively by BuzzFeed News, as well as interviews with key players and investigators…. reveal a detailed and plausible plan, well-connected Russian counterparts, and an effort that extended from spearfishing with a Russian developer on a private island to planning for a mid-campaign trip to Moscow for the presidential candidate himself.”
As we await the fallout from Thursday morning’s bombshell, keep this in mind: in political scandals, it’s almost always the cover-up that does the perps in.
The most notable example is Richard Nixon, who might have survived Watergate had he not tried to obstruct and fire his way out of trouble. (Jimmy Carter famously capitalized on Nixon’s dishonesty by campaigning on the slogan: “I will never lie to you.”)
That was a long time ago.
These days, you hear the claim that we’ve somehow entered an era of “post-truth politics” where facts don’t matter and falsehoods go unpunished.
There may be some truth to that, pardon the pun. But in the case of the Trump/Russia affair, the notion that lies carry no political consequences is overstated.
The most recent poll I could find on the president’s truthfulness found just 32-percent judging him honest.
It’s hard to believe that distrust wasn’t a factor in the shellacking Republicans took in the midterm House races, or that it won’t be a serious political problem going forward.
Especially if Michael Cohen is just the tip of the iceberg.