President Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified for hours today before the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, saying that after 10 years of loyalty, “I am not protecting Mr. Trump anymore.”
But from the moment it began, the hearing was just as much about the acute political divisions in Congress as about Trump and Cohen’s testimony against him.
Republicans angrily and repeatedly attacked Cohen’s credibility and trustworthiness — no surprise, since Cohen will soon begin a 3-year federal prison term for lying to Congress on previous occasions.
In written testimony, Cohen called Trump “a racist … a con man … a cheat.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the ranking Republican committee member, responded that Cohen is a “fraudster, cheat, convicted felon and, in two months, a federal inmate.”
While committee Republicans assailed Cohen, Democrats consistently steered the testimony back toward the president, and the numerous accusations Cohen aimed at him.
Asked about his motivations for turning against Trump, Cohen cited the the president’s mild reaction to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville VA in 2017 (“blame on both sides,” Trump said), during which one counter-protester was killed and dozens more injured.
He added two more reasons: Trump’s behavior during and after his Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, plus Cohen’s dismay at seeing “the daily destruction of our civility to each other.”
In one of several mea culpa moments during the hearing, Cohen declared himself responsible for this loss of civility, saying that others close to the president should learn from his example: “Look at what happened to me,” he said. “I had a wonderful life … and I’ve lost it all.”
“It is painful to admit that I was motivated by ambition at times,” he said. “It is even more painful to admit that many times I ignored my own conscience and acted loyal to a man when I should not have.”
Republicans saw that and other Cohen statements, along with his cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller and other law enforcement investigations, as self-serving — a bid to have his prison term reduced. Cohen did not deny he has such hopes.
Cohen, noting that he has been disbarred and thus has no current personal income, also refused to rule out book, movie and television deals that have been offered to him. He even left open the possibility he might seek political office in New York at some future date.
Asked if Trump ordered him to lie about business dealings with Russia, Cohen said no; Trump’s method was simply to make it clear what he wanted.
Trump, he said, “speaks in code, and I understand the code.”
Cohen quoted Trump as saying things like “it’s all a witch hunt and this stuff has to end,” and “there’s no collusion, there’s no Russia, there’s no involvement, no interference.”
That, Cohen said, was the message he was expected to deliver: “stay on point, that’s the party line that he created. That’s the message that he wanted to enforce.”
Cohen said Trump made it clear he was to to lie not only to the public about $130,000 in hush payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels, but also to Trump’s wife, Melania.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) declared that “there is absolutely no proof that those payments were for those specific purposes.”
To that, Cohen noted that he gave the committee two of 11 checks Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer wrote to pay him back. He admitted that he has no other hard evidence tying the payments to Daniels.
“I don’t believe that anybody out there thinks that I just decided to pay $130,000 for nothing,” Cohen said, adding that Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani admitted that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the hush payments.
Cohen told Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) that he fears for his family and himself because he feels Trump has threatened him, and could do “a lot” to harm him, recalling Trump’s campaign boast that he could gun someone down on New York’s Fifth Avenue “and get away with it.”
But the greatest threat is not from the president himself, Cohen said, but “those people” — a reference to what Cohen characterized as the “60-plus million people that follow [Trump] on social media.” Cohen said he has received threatening messages via social media, and has turned those messages over to the Secret Service.