Editor’s note: Last post of the day on Weiner. Promise.
The idea that it’s always the cover-up, and never the crime, is almost always wrong. Nixon? He had committed multiple felonies and would have gone to jail even if he’d confessed early.
The Anthony Weiner saga, however, is the first time I can recall when this enduring myth really did turn out to be true.
There’s a general sense from many pundits today — see Josh Marshall — that there’s something fundamentally wrong about Anthony Weiner having to resign. The general sense is that the punishment didn’t fit the crime.
But this is beside the point. Weiner’s colleagues turned on him almost certainly because he lied, and because of how he lied — because of the very specific lie that he told. If Weiner had ‘fessed up from the beginning, I suspect he would have survived. If he had even just stonewalled, or given a blanket but vague denial of improper behavior, he might have even survived that. But claiming to have been hacked when it wasn’t true was too specific a lie. It meant that colleagues who were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt repeated that lie (and liberal supporters found evidence “supporting” it before the whole thing caved in). And while they might have been willing to forgive Weiner for misbehavior, it’s a lot harder to forgive him for tricking them into telling lies to their own constituents.
Moreover, because of the specific nature of the lie (and how totally untrue it turned out to be), Dem leaders had no reason whatsoever to believe that there was nothing more to come. Nancy Pelosi wasn’t in a position to argue that what Weiner did wasn’t as bad as, say, what David Vitter had done, because she had no way of knowing what might be coming next.
So don’t blame Democratic leaders for pushing him out: By destroying any trust they might have had in him, Weiner is the one who made his own situation impossible. He made himself too dangerous to keep around.
In most cases where people blame the cover-up, the truth is that if the pol had really confessed to everything right away it would have meant certain political death, if not, in many cases, a long prison sentence. That’s certainly the case with the most famous example, Watergate. But this time, it was the lies that ended Anthony Weiner’s career in Congress.