When does a Trump lawyer tell the truth?
There is no penalty for lying on television, as anyone who watches cable news already knows. It is considered normal today when Fox News personalities -- to name one prominent group of habitual liars -- repeat absurd falsehoods, even if the result is that people contract the coronavirus and die.
There is no penalty for lying on the radio, as everyone has known for decades. It is a highly lucrative daily routine for talk jocks such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage -- among the most successful of their ilk -- who are often exposed but never feel embarrassed.
There is no penalty for lying on the internet, where spreading the most implausible conspiracy theories, bogus rumors and fake videos is literally a billion-dollar industry and, in some countries such as Russia, a government function.
But sometimes, there's a penalty for lying to a court or a federal law enforcement official. Which is why the mendacious claims about the presidential election now running unabated online and on air can suddenly turn to ashes in the mouths of President Donald Trump's lawyers. So eager to proffer fraudulent claims of vote fraud, those loudmouths start mumbling when reminded that they are subject to statutory discipline.
More than once during the past few days, Trump attorneys who brought actions against election authorities in battleground states have lapsed into what the late Jimmy Breslin used to call "off-English." In a Breslin column, "off-English" described words used to evade inconvenient truths.
The hard truth dodged by those Republican attorneys -- and their client and his cult -- is that Joe Biden soundly defeated the president by much larger margins than he achieved four years ago, and that there is simply no plausible evidence to diminish those totals. Outside the courthouses, on TV and online, those lawyers and their publicity apparatus, including the taxpayer-supported propagandists in the White House, say whatever Trump wants to hear, no matter how untrue.
They're not quite so brazen when appearing before a judge, however.
In Philadelphia, the Trump brief insisted that Republicans weren't being permitted to observe the counting of votes as required by law -- a charge tweeted out by the president and repeated by Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr. and company. When Trump attorney Jerome Marcus went into federal court demanding a halt to vote tabulation, however, U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond, appointed by former President George W. Bush, sharply reminded him of his obligation to be truthful.
Judge: "Are your observers in the counting room?"
Marcus (lapsing into off-English): "There's a non-zero number of people in the room."