Michael Cohen’s guilty plea Thursday that he lied to Congress about Donald Trump’s interests in building a Moscow tower comes as little surprise — everyone attached to this administration seems to lie with ease. And yet it’s explosive news in the carnival-kingdom of liars, crooks and thieves.
Cohen, who probably knows more than anyone about Trump’s business dealings — excepting, perhaps, special counsel Robert Mueller — admitted having falsely claimed that efforts to build a Trump Tower Moscow ended in January 2016. It turns out that negotiations actually continued through mid-June of that year.
What’s a few months, you say? But, of course, Trump would want to expand his real estate empire to Russia, as he reportedly has been trying to do for 30 years. As for Trump’s lying to the American people, we all know how little this matters to the Republican Party base. Simply put, they don’t care. The Don’s a tycoon, after all — a mogul, a celebrity, a really big deal, let me tell you. Besides, they would contend, little white lies never hurt anybody. Impervious as Trump loyalists are to the behavior of sewer rats, nothing Trump does — including, theoretically, shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, as he once noted with a soupcon of admiration — seems to threaten the moral fibers of the Republican tapestry.
But the littlest of lies can wreak havoc. Just ask Bill Clinton. And Richard Nixon. And Cohen, and Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman, who recently ended his plea relationship with Mueller. Trump’s own lies, which number in the thousands, according to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, haven’t yet hurt him enough to perp-walk him out of the White House, but the night is young. Indeed, the president’s tangerine-colored, Teflon-coated, tricky-dicky, slick-willie ways just might be running out of legs.
With Cohen’s plea, the president has secured a position heretofore reserved for others: He’s now officially a person of interest and even has a legal code name — Individual 1. Suffice to say, it could have been much worse. But what a lovely gesture from the FBI — providing a moniker better suited to the subject than “president.”
Needless to say, Individual 1, or I-1 for short, has accused Cohen of lying to spare himself. So many pants; so many fires. So grows the nose once the first lie is told. When everybody’s a liar, is Lady Justice left to weigh whose lies are most credible? Perhaps this is what’s taking Mueller so long to create a report. But the number of Trump associates who’ve left the swamp to sing for Mueller seems by now to outnumber those left for Trump to fire. Surely, a preponderance of evidence can’t be far off.
In the meantime, Trump has created a path through this byzantine labyrinth of deceit and betrayal by dropping crumbs of doubt to show the way. Each crumb corresponds to what and whom he considers a threat. For example, Trump detested and, ultimately, fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. Obviously, he had wanted Sessions to serve as soldier, spy, tinker — and to tailor things to suit the president. (Forgive me if this is too easy.)
For nearly two years, Trump has attacked the FBI and the special counsel. An innocent man need attack no one. From early in his campaign, while privy to ongoing business negotiations with Russia, he was touting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia generally. Just hours after Cohen’s plea, Trump canceled his planned meeting with Putin at the G-20 in Argentina this weekend.
One may read the crumbs as one wishes, but facts don’t lie — and them’s the facts. Even though most legal experts see no grounds for criminal charges (yet), it’s clear that Trump (again) lied to the American people and pursued a course he hoped would benefit him personally, contra his America-first trope. Emails from this same period show Cohen sought a financial endorsement from Russia for a Trump Tower project. Meanwhile, Putin was saying flattering things about Trump.
Perhaps most telling, I-1 has strategically sewn seeds of doubt in American institutions, especially the justice system, while making himself potentially vulnerable with our chief geopolitical foe (H/T Sen. Mitt Romney). Apparently, Trump would rather his supporters lose faith in their country than in the man they elected to disrupt it.
If that’s not technically a crime, it is surely criminal.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.