President Donald Trump’s ex-fixer and former personal attorney Michael Cohen accused the president of criminal offenses at a congressional hearing on Wednesday.
Cohen apologized to members of Congress for previously lying under oath to protect Trump — and accused the president of a number of serious crimes including bank fraud, tax fraud, campaign finance violations, and possibly threatening a witness. In his opening statement, Cohen called his former boss a “cheat” and a “con man.”
But instead of addressing Cohen’s explosive allegations during the hearing, House Republicans chose to muddy the waters and attack the credibility of Cohen, in a coordinated effort to shield Trump.
The Republican strategy of trying to discredit Cohen during the hearing was intended to send a message to their base that his claims should not be believed. Acknowledging that his credibility was in question, Cohen provided the committee physical evidence backing-up several of his claims.
Cohen has been sentenced to three years in jail, after pleading guilty to lying to Congress and confessing to tax and campaign finance violations related to paying off two women to keep quiet about their affairs with Trump before the 2016 presidential election.
Nearly all of the Republicans on the committee spent their time during the hearing attacking Cohen’s character instead of probing him about Trump’s misconduct. They painted Cohen as a serial liar (which he admitted to being in his opening statement), and an opportunist seeking a book and movie deal.
The Republican committee members’ attacks on Cohen’s veracity and character were constant and unrelenting.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) told him he had “a history of lying over and over and over again.” Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) dubbed Cohen “none other than a scorned man who is going to prison for lying to Congress.” Rep. James Comer (R-KY) said, “I don’t believe that Michael Cohen is capable of telling the truth.” Rep. Carol Miller (R-WV) said the hearing “will only serve as a platform for you to continue to lie,” and Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) asked, “Was it exhausting keeping track of all of the lies you were telling people?”
One Republican tried to show that Cohen was still lying to Congress, even when he wasn’t. In one exchange, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) seemed convinced he had proof that Cohen committed a “criminal offense” by lying on a previous disclosure form about foreign contracts. In reality, the form was about contracts with foreign governments, and Meadows had no proof that Cohen had any such contracts.
Cohen certainly has a history of lying to protect Trump and admitted as much throughout the hearing. But on Wednesday, he provided numerous documents, including a copy of a check Trump issued from his personal account after he became president.
“Some of you may doubt and attack me on my credibility,” Cohen told the committee. “It is for this reason that I have incorporated into this opening statement documents that are irrefutable, and demonstrate that the information you will hear is accurate and truthful.”
Despite that evidence, and despite Cohen’s acknowledgement that he has lied in the past, Republicans challenged his veracity.
At one point during the hearing, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) spat: “You are a pathological liar. You don’t know truth from falsehood.”
Cohen coolly replied, “Are you referring to me or the president?”
Why Republicans are doing this
Republicans essentially pulled a 180 on their assessment of Cohen. Before last June, when he was the vice chair of the Republican National Committee’s finance committee, Republicans were unconcerned about the former Trump lawyer’s character. Until it became clear that he would begin cooperating with federal prosecutors, Trump’s allies even spent many months praising Cohen.
But, while in the House majority, Republicans shielded Trump from any criticism and launched sham investigations and hearings into Russia’s efforts to undermine the 2016 election, in an effort to discredit the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Now, with one of Trump’s closest longtime confidants accusing the president of damning crimes while in office — allegations which, if true, could merit impeachment talks — they are scrambling to throw buckets of water on a burning building.
So, on Wednesday, they over and over reminded Republican supporters from their base that Cohen lied in the past and therefore cannot be trusted now.
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) asked Cohen, “What was the breaking point at which you decided to start telling the truth?”
Cohen’s reply was directed at the Republican side of the dais.
“There is several factors. Helsinki, Charlottesville, watching the daily destruction of our civility to one another, putting up silly things like this, really unbecoming of Congress. It’s that sort of behavior that I’m responsible for. I’m responsible for your silliness because I did the same thing you are doing now for 10 years.”