This was a big week in the long-running matter of The Truth vs. Donald J. Trump, in which The Truth scored a rare, but decisive, victory.
According to The Washington Post, which tracks each lie of Trump’s presidency, Trump lies every day of every week, so the fact of his lying is not exactly a major reveal.
What’s different this time is that Trump was so thoroughly caught in a lie that he basically had to admit to it. Sort of.
You can credit special counsel Bob Mueller for this. And if the notion gives you some faint hope that Trump will someday have to pay for his mendacity, well, you’ll just have to live with that. For now, I’m sticking with the notion that if the Mueller probe is, in fact, a witch hunt, we may have to rethink the question of whether witches are real.
Trump’s tumultuous week featured early appearances from confirmed liar Paul Manafort, from a presumably lying Roger Stone and from likely liar and confirmed conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi. Corsi is fairly new to our story, but Manafort and Stone are recurring characters. Manafort, the convicted felon who once ran Trump’s presidential campaign, is accused of lying about cooperating with Mueller. Corsi and Stone are players in the “collusion” game, in which they could possibly provide a smoking-gun link between Trumpworld and the Wikileaks email explosion. Stone’s defense, interestingly, is that he often exaggerates his exploits.
By week’s end, the setting had moved to Argentina and the Group of 20 meeting which saw Trump looking harried while truth-challenged despots Vladimir Putin and MBS were very publicly joking and high-fiving.
But the key day was Thursday. That’s when Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty, once again, to lying under oath. And not just to lying, but to lying in the service of one Donald Trump.
Everyone knows by now what the lie was about — the timeline for negotiating a would-be deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. In testifying before Congress in July 2017, Cohen had said that negotiations for a tower ended in January 2016, that neither he nor Trump had ever considered going to Moscow to negotiate the deal, that Cohen hadn’t talked to any Russian government officials about the deal.
According to the Mueller filings in the case, Cohen has admitted these were all lies.
Why did Cohen tell the lies about a failed Trump Tower deal besides the obvious — that, even for someone like Trump, secretly negotiating a deal with Russia while at the same time running for president is, uh, problematic?
Here are some other guesses: Because — as we learned in the Stormy Daniels case — lying is often part of what fixers do? Because we knew by then that the Russians had tried to interfere with the 2016 election to boost Trump’s chances of winning? Or because when negotiations for the building did apparently end — sometime around June — Trump was already the presumptive Republican nominee and, according to a report in Buzzfeed, was ready to offer Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse, which would be a hell of a thing if it weren’t actually in Moscow.
You can see the myriad problems here.
Let’s start with Cohen’s lies to Congress. Why didn’t Trump call him out for his lies? At minimum, we have Trump ignoring the fact that his fixer lied to Congress to cover up a Trump deal. But it could be far worse. There’s the possibility that someone in Trumpworld could have actually encouraged Cohen to lie.
After Cohen’s admission hit the news, Trump went the usual route — calling Cohen “weak” and a liar. He skipped on “crooked,” which is apparently reserved. But the next day, Trump basically agreed with Cohen’s timeline. He tweeted that, of course, he had been negotiating for the building, that the concept was not only “very legal” and “very cool,” but that “we were very open about it.” And, yes, that everyone knew that Trump was simultaneously running for president, praising Putin on the campaign trail and negotiating a deal with a foreign hostile power on the side.
You don’t need a very cool fact-checker to know that Trump was not open at all and had denied repeatedly having anything to do with Russia. I think the best, mostly-caps Trump tweet on the subject is this one, delivered just before Trump took office: “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA — NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”
None of this is surprising. Much of it had already been reported. House Democrats will certainly include this in their coming hearings. But it is now, as one pundit put it, one more Mueller marker in this investigation. More convictions/markers will tell more of the story and then, if the investigation survives, comes the report and the Trump insistence that it’s all fake news.
All the rest of us can know now is that Trump will keep calling the Mueller probe a witch hunt, that his many followers will agree to the very end, but that Putin has always known better. Maybe that’s what he and MBS were laughing about.