In 1996 William Safire, in a column based largely on the right-wing conspiracy theories of the time, famously called Hillary Clinton a “congenital liar.” One can only guess what Safire would have written about Donald Trump. The president of the United States is liar. This is not groundbreaking information, and it is not a partisan viewpoint. It is a demonstrable fact, not to mention the consensus view of the American public, only thirty-two percent of which believe Trump to be honest and trustworthy according to recent polling.
Anyone familiar with Trump’s history knows he has always viewed truth as a fungible substance. Perhaps, more than anything else, his well-known and longstanding admiration for tyrants and dictators has derived from a commonly shared belief that reality is not something the clever and the powerful need adjust to and accept; reality, rather, is what they create. And unsurprisingly, Trump has tended to draw into his orbit those who also frequently lie.
Last Thursday brought perhaps the most consequential and demonstrable evidence of this when Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, pled guilty to lying to Congress. These were the first charges brought against Cohen directly by Mueller (the previous charges were based on referrals by Mueller to the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s office). The guilty plea was part of a newly established cooperation agreement with the special counsel’s office, which has apparently yielded over seventy hours of interview with Cohen.
Cohen, at the direction of Trump, had previously admitted to making hush money payments involving Trump’s extramarital affairs during the 2016 campaign, activities that are thought by many legal experts to be serious campaign finance violations. Cohen admitted to lying to Congress in testimony from August 2017, in which he claimed that negotiations for a possible Trump Tower project in Moscow ended in January 2016. According to Cohen, negotiations continued well after this date, through the end of the Republican primary campaign and into mid-June 2016.
According to Cohen, these false statements were made to Congress in “close and regular” contact with the Trump White House staff and legal team. The false statements were crafted in order to align with Trump’s “political messaging,” as Trump and his campaign had long suggested that contact with Russian representatives about the project had “effectively terminated before the Iowa caucuses of February 1, 2016.” Cohen now admits to extensive negotiations long after this date. He admits that he kept Trump abreast of these negotiations and even discussed planning a potential trip to Moscow with him.
Trump repeatedly claimed during this period of the campaign that he had no business dealings with Russia. This was a monumental act of bad faith on the part of a candidate for the highest office the country. Posturing as an impartial critic of Obama-era foreign policy on Russia, Trump repeatedly called for closer relations and for ending the 2014 U.S.-led international sanctions on Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea. He also repeatedly flattered Vladimir Putin, whose blessing would have been necessary in order for the Trump Tower, Moscow, project to proceed.
Over the weekend, Democratic lawmakers pointed to a series of damning implications of this for Trump’s integrity and judgment, or lack thereof. Incoming House Intelligence Committee chair, Adam Schiff, pointed out that “at the same time that Donald Trump was the presumptive nominee of the GOP and arguing in favor of doing away with sanctions, he was working on a deal that would require doing away with sanctions for him to make money in Russia. That is a real problem. It means that the compromise is far broader than we thought.”
Jerry Nadler, the soon-to-be House judiciary chairman, also noted that this would have effectively given the Kremlin kompromat, or compromising material, on Trump during the lead up to the Republican convention, since Putin would surely have kept careful tabs on Trump’s business negotiations with the explicit purpose of gaining such leverage. Russia has been referred to as a “blackmail state” for its widespread practice of seeking leverage over one’s enemies and competitors. This perhaps explains why even after the Moscow project fell through Trump still pushed to water down the GOP platform on Russian intervention in Ukraine.
There are broader potential legal issues for Trump in this fiasco, based largely on speculation from Mueller’s bread crumbs in the court filings. You can read about them here and here. But we should acknowledge the obvious political implications of all this, which are already plain as day and more important anyway. This is that Trump had no compunction at all about, first, campaigning to change U.S. foreign policy without acknowledging his enormous personal and financial stake in these matters, and second, about flagrantly lying to voters and his own supporters over it.
On the first point, consider what was involved in this. Perhaps Trump really believed closer ties to murderers and autocrats, such as Putin, really are in the interests of the American public. If so, he has yet to ever offer a coherent explanation for why this would be the case. What’s more, despite his fawning hero-worship for Putin, he has hardly ever sought to enact any of these changes in policy now that he is in a position to do so. And beyond sheer national interest, there is the not inconsequential matter of undermining America’s tradition of supporting and defending democratic political vales and human rights, a tradition many American conservatives have a long history of supporting, but who now seem to see these values as impracticalities simply because Trump told them so.
As to the second point, what is there to say? It’s as if Trump-supporting America (yes, sadly, there really are two countries now) has made a willful choice to exist in a cocoon of doublethink, where Trump’s party line effectively dictates their grasp of broader political reality, even though there are mountains of evidence proving that Trump continually lies about that reality. What could possibility break them out of that cocoon is anyone’s guess.
- ACLU has “worked for almost 100 years to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
- Protect the Investigation is a “nonpartisan initiative to educate the American people about the importance of the special counsel investigation and its current findings.”
- Propublica exposes “abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions, using the moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing.”
- Law Works engages “bipartisan voices and educates the public on the importance of the rule of law, the role of the special counsel in the justice system, and the integrity of our judicial institutions.”
- Nobody is Above the Law is a clearinghouse for organizing events to protect the Mueller probe.
- Stand Up America is an “organization born after the outpouring of resistance to Donald Trump’s election in 2016. They are committed to providing you with the information you need to take impactful action and make your voice heard.”
- Protect Democracy is a “nonpartisan nonprofit with an urgent mission: to prevent our democracy from declining into a more authoritarian form of government.”
This brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS environment news analyst and Russia investigation reporter Jonathan Peter Schwartz: Jonathan@usresistnews.org
Photo by rob walsh