During the lunch break of Michael Cohen’s (the other one) testimony to the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, I reached out to an old friend, who is a Democratic political consultant, to get his reaction.
His sense, like mine, was that while Cohen’s litany of Trumpian abuses was compelling and disturbing, it probably hadn’t done much to move the political needle. Both of us were momentarily in awe at our cynical, yet realistic response to the day’s proceedings.
It laid bare the fundamental dilemma of the Trump era: the normalization of his brazen criminality and the complicity of Republicans who refuse to hold the president accountable for his actions.
To quote Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, there resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue a “racist, a con man and a cheat.” This isn’t news, but to hear it out of the mouth of a man who had worked intimately with Trump for a decade made it even more disturbing.
During the testimony, we heard that the president may have been alerted to the Wikileaks dump of DNC e-mails by Roger Stone. Cohen made clear that the president was an active participant in a criminal conspiracy to cover-up the payment of hush money to Stormy Daniels — a conspiracy that continued even after he took office. Moreover, Cohen suggested that Trump, along with potentially his lawyers, may have suborned perjury in encouraging Cohen to lie to Congress about the status of a Trump real estate project in Russia.
There were other allegations of insurance fraud, tax evasion, and false statements to the special counsel by the president. Cohen even intimated that Trump knew about the infamous Trump Tower meeting between Russian officals, his son, Don Jr., son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
In short, Cohen’s testimony laid out a pattern of criminality and law-breaking by the president — both before and after his election — that is practically unprecedented in the more than two century history of the American presidency.
And Republican members of Congress could have cared less.
Not one expressed even the slightest concern about the overwhelming evidence that the president has broken the law. Tellingly, few bothered to defend his actions, instead spending their five minutes of questions hurling invectives at Cohen. Ranking Republican member Jim Jordan was particularly hysterical, calling Cohen a “fraudster, cheat, convicted felon and, in two months, a federal inmate.”
Others repeatedly suggested that Cohen is angling for a book or movie deal; that he was lashing out at Trump over bitterness at not being given a plum White House job and, above all, that Cohen cannot be trusted because he’s already pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.
Yet, for all of Cohen’s obvious vulnerabilities as a witness (and his unsympathetic nature), he came across as oddly credible. After all, he was practically the sole person in the hearing room actually willing to defend the president. Indeed, there was something quite strange about listening to Republican after Republican attack Cohen’s credibility, at the same time that he was playing down allegations of Russian collusion against Trump and dismissing the most outlandish and salacious accusations made about the president. Repeatedly, he shot down Democratic conspiracy theories and narrowly focused his allegations against Trump to what he knew, not what he might have suspected.
All of this is more disconcerting when one considers that the attacks on Cohen’s honesty were in defense of a president who lies incessantly. Such is the morally and ethically diminished public careers of Republican politicians who are more focused on maintaining the loyalty of Trump’s cult-like following than upholding their oath of office to support and defend the Constitution.
At the end of the day, truth is the least of the GOP’s concerns. All that matters, it seemed, is carrying water for a president, described by a man who knows him far better than any member of Congress, as ungenerous, unkind, disloyal, and ultimately corrupting.
Indeed, the most telling moment of the hearing came when Cohen turned to the Republican side of the committee room and said, “I’m responsible for your silliness because I did the same thing that you’re doing now for 10 years. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years. The more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did blindly are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.”
After watching the appalling performance of complicit Republicans one not only imagines that Cohen is correct — one also hopes so.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.