Can a lying rat ever tell the truth?
Sure. Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano brought down Mafia crime boss John Gotti by testifying against him in a deal in which he confessed involvement in 19 murders.
Michael Cohen is trying to bring down Trump World the same way: by testifying against President Trump, while acknowledging his complicity in their shared sleazy activities.
Last August, Cohen, Trump’s onetime personal lawyer and confidant, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress. On Wednesday, Cohen was back before Congress — this time accusing Trump of “illicit acts.” Wearing a blue tie and his trademark hangdog expression, Cohen said the president “called me a rat for choosing to tell the truth — much like a mobster would do when one of his men decides to cooperate with the government.”
Predictably, Republicans attacked Cohen as a proven liar, which he is. Or as Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, presented it, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”
But one common way to catch a crook is with a crook. As Representative Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts said to Cohen: “I don’t think my colleagues are afraid you’ll lie. I think they’re afraid you’ll tell the truth.”
One man’s rat is another man’s path to personal redemption. And with his dramatic testimony, redemption is what Cohen is now after.
Trump, said Cohen, knew Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop of Democratic National Committee e-mails. Trump knew of payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels, and wrote personal checks to reimburse Cohen after becoming president. At Trump’s direction, Cohen said, he wrote threatening letters to the president’s high school, colleges, and the College Board, to stop the release of his grades and SAT scores. Trump knew about Cohen’s negotiations with Russia for the planned development of a Trump tower in Moscow.
We already knew that Trump lies. The critical bar is meeting the legal standard necessary to prove he’s a crook. Cohen told lawmakers that federal prosecutors are investigating unspecified criminal allegations regarding Trump that are not yet public. But in his prepared testimony, Cohen backed away from accusing Trump of criminal conduct on two fronts.
Trump “did not directly tell me to lie to Congress,” he testified. And, he added, “Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not. I want to be clear. But I have my suspicions.”
Republicans didn’t waste much time trying to refute Cohen’s assertions. They just attacked his credibility. Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, skewered Democrats who now control the committee on oversight and reform for having as their first announced witness “a guy who is going to prison for lying to Congress.”
Representative Mark Green, Republican of Tennessee, berated Cohen as “a scorned man who’s going to prison for lying to Congress . . . a narcissist, a bully who cannot tell the truth about the president or his own life.”
But Cohen stood his ground. When Gosar called him a “pathological liar,” he replied: “Are you referring to me or the president?”
Republicans want the public to believe Cohen’s new-found conscience is all about getting a lighter prison sentence. But one of the more powerful exchanges came when Cohen was asked by Representative Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee, about the timeline for his decision to start telling the truth. It was about watching events unfolding during the Trump administration, said Cohen, and “the daily destruction our civility to each other.”
For 10 years, he said, “I protected Mr. Trump.” And in the end, he lost it all. Added Cohen: “I can only warn people that the more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did blindly are going to suffer the consequences that I did.”
For those who believe a lying rat can sometimes tell the truth, that’s a dire prediction.
Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.