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Opinion | Renée Graham

A convicted felon’s forgotten warning to Republicans

Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer, warned others about blindly following Trump during his testimony to Congress.
Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer, warned others about blindly following Trump during his testimony to Congress.Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Republicans defending President Trump can never say they weren’t told.

"I did the same thing that you’re doing now — for 10 years. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years,” Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former fixer and personal attorney, said last February during his seven hours of Congressional testimony. “I can only warn people. The more people that follow Mr. Trump — as I did blindly — are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.”

He is now an inmate at Otisville Federal Correctional Institution in New York.

Whether Cohen, sentenced to three years after he pleaded guilty to campaign finance, bank, and tax crimes, is “suffering” behind bars is subject to debate. Still, this is a fact — he is a convicted felon because of his longtime fealty to Trump.


This is likely why Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the European Union, suddenly caught a serious case of the truth about that July phone call between Trump and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky. After a “review” of his recent impeachment inquiry testimony, Sondland had an epiphany which amounted to “Oh, THAT quid pro quo!" Sondland confirmed what others have already said: that Trump wanted Ukraine to make a public pledge to investigate former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in exchange for military aid.

Sondland, who bought his ambassadorship with a $1 million donation to Trump’s campaign, must have realized that lying under oath to defend an indefensible president could put him where Cohen landed.

Still, there’s no shortage of Republican legislators who refuse to see that sticking with Trump is like chaining yourself to a boulder careening toward a cliff’s edge. In defending the president’s mounting misdeeds, the GOP is concocting more excuses than a child with a baseball bat standing next to a shattered vase. That their reasoning is increasingly preposterous is irrelevant; this is a public performance for an audience of one in the Oval Office.


First, they said there was no quid pro quo; now it’s dismissed as business as usual. They’ve scolded naysayers to read the White House-approved phone call transcript – which had potentially incriminating phrases deleted – but Republicans have refused to read witness transcripts that allege wrongdoing. They parrot that the call between Trump and Zelensky was “perfect” because Trump keeps saying it was “perfect." Representative Don Young of Alaska even head-butted a camera rather than answer a reporter’s question as to whether it’s appropriate for a foreign government to meddle in our election.

Yet leave it to Senator Lindsey Graham, whose lapdog devotion to Trump remains as ruthlessly unshakeable today as it was completely nonexistent in 2016, to add his own bizarre twist to the GOP excuse-a-day generator.

“What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward Ukraine is it was incoherent,” he told reporters Wednesday. "It depends who you talk to; they seemed to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo. So, no, I find the whole process to be a sham, and I’m not going to legitimize it.”

In short, Graham says the Trump administration is too stupid to be corrupt.

Here’s the real sham: No matter how many credible witnesses verify Trump’s unconstitutional acts, Republican legislators will deflect, deny, or headbutt the facts to save this president. It’s already been reported that Trump is flooding Senate supporters with campaign cash and snubbing those who refused to sign a GOP resolution condemning the House impeachment inquiry. Like the criminal he is, he’s buying protection.


With public impeachment hearings scheduled to start next week, Republicans will keep kneading their defense of Trump to fit the moment. President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official ... It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country."

Clearly, the GOP has chosen where it stands.

Years ago, Cohen famously said he would “take a bullet” for Trump. That was before his guilty plea, before he held himself up as a cautionary tale, before he became inmate 86067-054. Yet Republicans are too preoccupied with burnishing their loyalty to a president loyal only to himself to heed the warnings of a convicted felon who once stood where they stand now.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.