Cohen Hearing Summed Up

Ken AshfordCongress, L'Affaire Russe, Stormy Daniels & Karen McDougal Affairs, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Cohen’s testimony includes accusations — relating to Trump’s racism, his lack of concern for the public weal and his attempts to conceal his academic record — that, if true, are simply embarrassing. But, as noted by Max Bergmann of the Moscow Project at the Center for American Progress, the president’s former lawyer also implicated him in at least four felonies:

1. Conspiracy to defraud the United States. Cohen testified that he was present in July 2016 when Trump took a call on the speakerphone from Roger Stone, who said “that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” According to Cohen, Trump replied, “Wouldn’t that be great.” (Stone has denied that account, in possible violation of a judge’s gag order.) Trump cannot claim that he did not know where the leaked emails ultimately came from: It had been public knowledge since mid-June 2016 that Russian hackers had penetrated the Democratic National Committee.

2. Lying to the FBI and the Justice DepartmentAccording to CNN, Trump, in his written testimony to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, claimed “that Roger Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks, nor was he told about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son, campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.” Cohen contradicted those assertions.

3. Suborning perjury. Cohen testified that Trump encouraged him to lie to Congress about his attempts in 2016 to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and that his personal lawyers reviewed the mendacious testimony.

4. Violating campaign finance laws. Cohen testified that Trump told him to pay off a porn star and reimbursed him for doing so. Cohen even produced a check Trump signed while he was president and another one that was signed by Donald Trump Jr., implicating the president’s son in this felony, as well.

To these four offenses, one may add: 5. Bank, wire and tax fraud. Cohen testified that Trump inflated his assets to win bank loans and deflated them to reduce his taxes — precisely the kind of scheme for which Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is now facing lengthy prison time. And Cohen added that he knew of other offenses that federal prosecutors are still investigating.

Notably, Cohen confirmed that he is actively cooperating with prosecutors in the Southern District of New York:

Prior to Wednesday, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York were known to have been examining whether any Trump Org executives violated campaign-finance laws as part of the scheme to reimburse Cohen and had been conducting an investigation of the Trump inaugural committee, CNN has reported.

On Wednesday, Cohen suggested they are also examining a conversation he had with Trump in the spring of 2018, within two months of the FBI having executed search warrants on Cohen’s home, hotel room and office.

After telling the committee that conversation was the last time Cohen spoke to Trump, Cohen said he couldn’t speak further about that matter because it is under investigation by prosecutors. “I’ve been asked by them not to discuss and not to talk about these issues,” Cohen said.

Minutes later, Cohen was asked: “Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal acts that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven’t yet discussed today?” Cohen replied: “Yes, and again those are part of the investigation that’s currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York.”

At another point, Cohen disclosed: “I am in constant contact with the Southern District of New York regarding ongoing investigations.”

Questions directly related to the Russia investigation were intentionally limited; Cohen provided closed-door testimony on those matters this week to the congressional intelligence committees. After his Tuesday appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee, ranking member Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia stated, “When this investigation started, I said it may be the most important thing that I’m involved in in my public life in the Senate. Nothing I have heard today dissuades me from that view.”

Yet, two pieces of pertinent information were discussed in the open session testimony on Wednesday. First, Cohen stated that it was his opinion that he had witnessed Donald Trump Jr. informing his father that the now infamous June 6th, 2016 Trump Tower meeting was set up and going forward, although this is nothing more than informed conjecture on Cohen’s part. Second, and more concrete, was Cohen’s testimony that he was present for a July 2016 speakerphone conversation between Donald Trump and Roger Stone in which Stone claimed to have spoken directly with Julian Assange.

In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect of “wouldn’t that be great.”

In one way, this isn’t as damning as it might look. As a Republican congressman pointed out in the hearing, Assange had publicly stated more than a month before, on June 12, 2016, that he had documents that would provide “enough evidence” to indict Hillary Clinton. The significance of the Trump/Stone call is that it contradicts the story both of them have been telling for almost three years now.

Based on other evidence that the Office of Special Counsel has produced in court filings, it seems unlikely that Stone was telling the truth about speaking directly with Assange. At different times, Stone used Jerome CorsiTed Malloch and Randy Credico as intermediaries, and he exchanged some text messages with Assange, but there’s no public evidence that Stone had phone conversations with him. On the other hand, assuming that Stone was at least accurately conveying what he had learned second-hand from Assange, this represents an earlier (and probably different) contact than anything Mueller has so far produced.

To see why this is a problem for the president, remember that this was one of the items Mueller had on his list of questions he asked Trump to answer: “What knowledge did you have of communication with or regarding Roger Stone, persons associated with Roger Stone, Julian Assange, or WikiLeaks?”

Trump reportedly denied explicitly and in-writing having any knowledge of these communications. Mueller would need further corroboration to make a perjury charge here stick, but presumably he has phone records and, perhaps, other witnesses.

Not one Republican asked a question about Trump. Predictable I suppose. Instead, they tried to impugn Cohen’s character. It almost was overkill — the fact that he is going to prison for lying. But Cohen was contrite, and unflustered.

They continuously lambasted Cohen for having come before Congress previously and lying his head off. But the only perjury counts he received were related to lies the president had told himself. Even more sketchy is the fact that Cohen stated under oath that the president’s lawyers had reviewed and edited his perjurious testimony before he gave it.

This cognitive dissonance provide extra poignancy when Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona told Cohen, “You’re a pathological liar; you don’t know truth from falsehood” and Cohen responded, “I’m sorry, are you referring to me or the president?”

Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC) made an ass out of himself by countering the charge of Trump being a racist, by using Trump’s (African-American) wedding planner as a prop.

At the end of the day, Cohen did more political damage to Trump than legal damage. In a normal world, the political damage would be devastating. But the political divide is so entrenched that I don’t think it moved the needles on most people.

From The Atlantic:

House Republicans needed a trial lawyer—or even a moderately bright junior-high mock-trial participant—to tell them how to do anything. Cross-examination is hard. It’s not just barking at the witness. It takes meticulous planning and patience. Republicans could have marshaled Cohen’s many sins of the past to undermine his statements today. Instead, they returned repeatedly to lies and misdeeds he’s already admitted, wallowed in silly trivialities such as the “Women for Cohen” Twitter account, and yelled. The effect was to make an unsympathetic man modestly more sympathetic. Republicans committed the classic cross-examination blunder: They gave the witness the opportunity to further explain his harmful direct testimony. They provided Cohen with one slow pitch up the middle after another, letting him repeat the cooperating witness’s go-to explanation like a mantra: I did these bad things so often and so long because that’s what it took to work for your guy. I have seldom seen a cross-examination go worse.

The attacks on Cohen’s credibility only went so far because, in many cases, Cohen had the receipts, including reimbursements to Cohen for the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels.

Peter Wehner in the New York Times:

Michael Cohen’s testimony before Congress on Wednesday revealed as much about the Republican Party as it did about President Trump and his former lawyer. In the aftermath of Mr. Cohen’s damning testimony, several things stand out.

The first is that unlike John Dean, the former White House counsel who delivered searing testimony against President Richard Nixon in 1973, Mr. Cohen produced documents of Mr. Trump’s ethical and criminal wrongdoing. (Mr. Dean had to wait for the Watergate tapes to prove that what he was saying was true.)

Mr. Cohen’s most explosive evidence included a copy of a check Mr. Trump wrote from his personal bank account, while he was president, to reimburse Mr. Cohen for hush money payments. The purpose of that hush money, of course, was to cover up Mr. Trump’s affair with a pornographic film star in order to prevent damage to his campaign.
Other evidence produced by Mr. Cohen included financial statements, examples of Mr. Trump inflating and deflating his wealth to serve his interests, examples of charity fraud, efforts to intimidate Mr. Cohen and his family and even letters sent by Mr. Cohen to academic institutions threatening legal actions if Mr. Trump’s grades and SAT scores were released. (Mr. Trump hammered President Barack Obama on this front, referring to him as a “terrible student, terrible,” and mocking him for not releasing his grades.)

Yet Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, in their frantic effort to discredit Mr. Cohen, went after him while steadfastly ignoring the actual evidence he produced. They tried to impugn his character, but were unable to impugn the documents he provided. Nor did a single Republican offer a character defense of Mr. Trump. It turns out that was too much, even for them.

In that sense, what Republicans didn’t say reveals the truth about what happened at the hearing on Wednesday as much as what they did say. Republicans showed no interest, for example, in pursuing fresh allegations made by Mr. Cohen that Mr. Trump knew that WikiLeaks planned to release hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee in the summer of 2016.

In a sane world, the fact that the president’s former lawyer produced evidence that the president knowingly and deceptively committed a federal crime — hush money payments that violated campaign finance laws — is something that even members of the president’s own party would find disquieting. But not today’s Republican Party.

Instead, in the most transparent and ham-handed way, they saw no evil and heard no evil, unless it involved Mr. Cohen. Republicans on the committee tried to destroy the credibility of his testimony, not because they believe that his testimony is false, but because they fear it is true.
By now Republicans must know, deep in their hearts, that Mr. Cohen’s portrayal of Mr. Trump as a “racist,” “a con man” and “a cheat” is spot on. So it is the truth they fear, and it is the truth — the fundamental reality of the world as it actually is — that they feel compelled to destroy.

This is the central organizing principle of the Republican Party now. More than tax cuts. More than trade wars. More even than building a wall on our southern border. Republicans are dedicated to annihilating truth in order to defend Mr. Trump and they will go after anyone, from Mr. Cohen to Robert Mueller, who is a threat to him.

This quote from the day stands out. Cohen tied Trump directly to Wikileaks via Roger Stone:

… I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect of “wouldn’t that be great.”

It is not criminal, but damaging politically. In the past, Stone has denied the link, Jeffrey Toobin wrote:

“I have no memory of ever talking about WikiLeaks with him,” Stone told me in Fort Lauderdale. Responding to persistent rumors that Mueller has a witness who says he heard Trump and Stone on a speakerphone discussing WikiLeaks, Stone said, “Prove it.”

Cohen is that witness, and perhaps Trump’s secretary too. The danger for Trump now is other Trump Organization employees, although they are few, may see an opening for abandoning a sinking ship, as may White House staff.

Cohen made that danger explicit in a damning statement to Trump’s defenders: “I did the same thing that you’re doing now for 10 years. I protected Mr Trump for 10 years,” Cohen said. “I can only warn people, the more people follow Mr. Trump, as I did blindly, are going to suffer the consequences that I’m suffering.”

Those words will outlive those of Trump’s defenders. The former Trump “fixer’ delivered them like an oracle in Act 1 of a Greek tragedy. We know what happens in the final act.

Seth Meyers takes a closer look:

On a side issue, the Florida State Bar is looking into ethics violations by Matt Gaetz for his threatening tweet (now removed from Twitter):