President Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to lying to Congress. Cohen conceded that he was intentionally wrong. He lied about the dates of an abortive Moscow real estate deal when he testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee last year.
Cohen's plea was, of course, big news on cable television. The president responded to it as well. He called Cohen, "weak," and "not a very smart person."
Well, that's objectively true, of course. It's also worth asking why anyone would hire a weak, dumb lawyer. Someday, we'll get to the bottom of that.
But, for now, let's consider what we have just learned about how Washington works. Apparently, it's now an enforceable felony to lie to the U.S. Congress.
On one level, that is good news. We should take our own laws seriously.
Functional countries do that. Nations in decline set up sanctuary cities and ignore their own borders. Nor is it implausible that Michael Cohen might have broken this law or really any other law.
Nobody who knows him is shocked by the allegation. If Cohen was accused of running a cannibalism ring, you'd have to at least take the charge seriously. Anything is possible with that guy, so, three cheers for law and order.
The problem is if you're going to enforce statutes, you have to enforce them fairly and evenly. The law has to apply to everyone. Otherwise, it's not really the law. It's a political weapon.
Michael Cohen is facing five years in prison for telling Congress something that he knew was false. How often does that happen in Washington? If you watch C-SPAN, you know the answer. Constantly, all the time.
There are almost never consequences, by the way. According to one study, between the Second World War and 2007, a total of only six people were convicted of lying to Congress, six people in 60 years. In other words, the law is not enforced. And that's why people break it so often.
Here’s this sworn testimony before Congress from 2013. This is not someone you haven't heard of. This is the then Director of National Intelligence, Jim Clapper, assuring the Congress, under oath, that the NSA absolutely does not spy on American citizens.
RONALD LEE WYDEN, SENIOR UNITED STATES SENATOR FOR OREGON, DEMOCRATIC PARTY MEMBER, DEAN OF OREGON'S CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE, RETIRED LIEUTENANT GENERAL IN THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE: No, sir.
WYDEN: It does not?
CLAPPER: Not wittingly.
Yes. Clapper lied. He's a liar. There's no debate about that. And yet, he wasn't charged for lying under oath. In fact, Clapper got richer after he retired. CNN hired him as an Analyst.
Pretty much the same thing happened with Jim Comey, the former FBI Director.
In 2017, Comey claimed, again, under oath, that he had never been an anonymous source for news stories while he worked at the FBI. Here’s what he said when he told that lie to the Congress:
CHARLES GRASSLEY, SENIOR UNITED STATES SENATOR, IOWA, REPUBLICAN PARTY MEMBER: Director Comey, have you ever been an anonymous source in news reports about matters relating to the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: Never.
GRASSLEY: Have you ever authorized someone else at the FBI to be an anonymous source in news reports about the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation?
Yes. Well, according to Comey's long-time deputy who would know, and that would be former FBI Deputy Director, Andrew McCabe, what Comey said on the tape you just saw is totally untrue.
So, Comey lied to Congress. But nobody cared. Jim Comey went on to get rich as a pundit selling his book. -- The same people rooting for Michael Cohen's destruction for lying consider Jim Comey a hero.
And then there's former CIA Director, John Brennan. Brennan lies constantly. That's well documented. In 2011, for example, rennan claimed that drone strikes overseas had never, to his knowledge, killed a single non-combatant. That was a total crock.
In 2014, Brennan lied and said the CIA had not broken into the computers of Senate staffers. And then, last year, under oath, before Congress, Brennan said this:
TREY GOWDY, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FOR SOUTH CAROLINA'S 4TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT, AMERICAN ATTORNEY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Do you know if the Bureau ever relied on the Steele dossier as any - as part of any court filings, applications, petitions, pleadings?
JOHN OWEN BRENNAN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: I have no awareness.
GOWDY: Did the CIA rely on it?
BRENNAN: No. It was not in any way used as a basis for the intelligence community assessment that was done.
Yes. That's a total lie, a fragrant lie, and a significant one about something that affects the life of this country. And yet, you know
how the story ends. Brennan was never charged with a felony for lying to the Congress. In fact, just the opposite, Washington rewarded him.
Brennan is now an Analyst for NBC News. He could be on the air on Thursday night telling you why it's so vitally important that Michael Cohen was charged with lying to Congress because we really can't have that. Rule of law, rule of law, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Do you notice a theme here that connects all these stories? Yes, there is one. And it's simple. The well-connected can do pretty much whatever they want.
They can lie to the Congress with impunity, and they do. They can lobby for foreign governments without bothering to register, and they do. If they're rich enough, they can even, I don't know, molest children without being seriously punished. Ask Jeffrey Epstein. He did that.
None of this, by the way, is a defense of Michael Cohen. That guy's a creep. He may very well wind up in jail. But if Cohen does wind up in jail, let's hope he's just the first in a long series of prosecutions.
If the law is applied to Michael Cohen, then it has to be applied to people who have lied about things that actually matter.
Adapted from Tucker Carlson's monologue on "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on November 29, 2018.