In the United States, Lies Like No Other

Untruths during congressional hearings are frequent, notes our columnist. Are we witnessing a trivialization of the lie in a country where, up until now, lying to Congress was considered an absolute crime?

It is nice to say that, in the U.S., lying is considered an absolute crime, much less tolerated than in Europe, [but] it is clear that not everyone is in the same boat. Nafissatou Diallo, for example, the maid at the Sofitel hotel in New York who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault, quickly passed from the status of victim to someone with the plague because she had hidden some details about her private life and immigration status. That was a serious fault for the Americans. #MeToo did not exist yet.

President Bill Clinton had to backpedal after the Monica Lewinsky affair. Hie was blamed more for the lie that for his extramarital affair. But what about the attorneys general under Donald Trump? Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from the Russian affair after admitting to having lied: He had met a certain Russian ambassador in Washington. He later joined Trump’s bench of those who were dismissed. Case closed. Hit, sunk, forgotten. As for the latest case, William Barr, his hearing on Wednesday before Congress was a kind of show version of “Liar’s Poker.”

’Naughty Press, Leave!’

Special Counsel Robert Mueller accuses [Barr] of having watered down Mueller’s report on Trump, presenting it a little too favorably in his summary. Barr rejects these accusations and attacks Mueller. Mueller asserts that he did not question Barr’s summary, but merely the way the press interpreted it. Naughty press, leave! Except that here it is: The letter sent by Mueller on March 27, and broadcast by most American media, says in black and white that it is the summary proposed by the attorney general that poses a problem.

’Tragicomedies without Popcorn’

It is hard to understand why Barr has so easily let himself be dragged down the path of what may seem like a lie … Words against words? Yes, except that Mueller left a written record. At other times, Barr, under oath, preferred to resort to another, less dangerous tactic, partial amnesia. Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer, a fierce pit bull who has become a nice poodle since he collaborated with law enforcement, has also been guilty of lying about Trump’s business. He admitted it to Congress. The hearings before the Senate and the House of Representatives may be described as spicy, and definitely increasingly resemble a tragicomedy, without the popcorn.

The Risk of Trivialization

But those who spread lies are not wavering at all. There is one in particular who has set the bar very high: Donald Trump. The Washington Post has tracked his lies, inaccuracies, untruths and other supposedly voluntary mistakes for months. If we believe the newspaper, there are already more than 10,000 since his inauguration, counted in different degrees of “lie.” Small Pinocchios are also significant, like small peppers on Thai menus that indicate the extent to which a customer will find food spicy. This profusion of lies carries an immense risk: the trivialization of the lie. And that’s what Trump is helping to do. With, obviously, some faithful servants as accomplices.

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