The Trick Was On Us

And so it came to pass that on the day before Halloween 2009 we all were reminded that most of the biggest tricks of the past decade were on us.

First, we learned that Bernard Madoff mocked regulators in a jailhouse interview in which he expressed astonishment that his huge fraud was not unraveled earlier by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The young investigators, Madoff said, should have "checked basics like his account with Wall Street's central clearinghouse and his dealings with the firms that were supposedly handling his trades," the Times reported. "If you're looking at a Ponzi scheme, it's the first thing you do," Madoff said, in what could pass as an epitaph for the costly debacle.

Next, we learned that former Vice President Dick Cheney had a convenient and extraordinarily broad case of amnesia in 2004 when he was questioned under oath in the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation.

Over and over again, Cheney failed or refused to specifically answer pertinent questions about his role in the leak or its cover-up. If his name were Dick Smith, and he were not a heartbeat from the presidency at the time, the Feds surely would have indicted him based upon this implausible and incomplete testimony. Martha Stewart was convicted for less — and, you could argue, so was I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby (above, with Cheney).

Finally, from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, we learned more details Friday night about Bush-era interrogation policies and tactics. We learned more about the philosophical and strategic struggles between agents of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We learned that some well-meaning bureaucrat/officer wrote a memo asking if Saddam Hussein could be interviewed without the benefit of the recitation of a Miranda warning. Permission was granted.

None of these revelations ought to shock us. We've known for a while that Madoff is a crook, that Cheney is proud to flaunt his monarchal bent, and that the CIA and FBI fought like lions and hyenas over the soul of terrorism law following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Still, when this sort of corroborating evidence emerges into the light of public scrutiny, it becomes harder for those who deny the basic facts to continue to do so. The third or fourth draft of history is usually clearer than the first.

So, the trick this Halloween is the recognition that there are still plenty of liars and con men and rogues running around doing great damage to our legal and political and economic systems.

The treat this Saturday is the knowledge that they usually get busted in the end — and sometimes even before all the damage is really done.

Andrew Cohen is CBS News' Chief Legal Analyst and Legal Editor. CourtWatch is his blog with analysis and commentary on breaking legal news and events. For columns on legal issues before the beginning of this blog, click here. You can also follow him on Twitter.