As Brian Williams said last night, and I am paraphrasing: “It is very possible that fifty year from now, we will still be looking at video clips from Cohen’s testimony.” Meaning, today is an historical day. Maybe.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer”, who was disbarred yesterday, and is scheduled to be imprisoned for lying to investigators, is testifying before the House Oversight Committee, and is expected to talk about Trump’s finances, potential crimes, and overall grossness.
His opening statement alone, released last night, is explosive:
Russia talk is likely to be limited. Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the Oversight Committee’s chairman, released a memo last week laying out the scope of the hearing. Conspicuously absent: Russia and its election interference campaign.
After consulting with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, lawmakers determined that Mr. Cohen would generally not be allowed to publicly discuss matters related to its continuing investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian election manipulation efforts.
That is not because Mr. Cohen has nothing to say on the matter. And his planned opening remarks suggest that he will weigh in on episodes believed to be central to the Russia investigation. But out of deference to Mr. Mueller’s work, lawmakers have agreed to leave most detailed questions about potential ties to Russia to closed hearings this week with the Senate and House Intelligence Committees.
However, he may testify about Roger Stone, Wikileaks, and the president’s knowledge of it all… because he was in the room.
As Cohen himself notes, his testimony will be suspect from the start. He has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and to bank fraud and tax evasion. The White House has repeatedly said Cohen is not to be believed, most recently in a statement ahead of this week’s testimony. The president called him a “rat,” a mafia-inflected term that, intentionally or not, seems to confirm that Cohen knows something damaging about him.
Trump’s allies have also attacked Cohen. In an astonishing tweet, since deleted, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida said on Tuesday, “Hey @MichaelCohen212 — Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.” Gaetz was quickly accused of witness tampering. Cohen’s testimony was already postponed after he complained that Trump was threatening him on Twitter.
Trump weighed in again early this morning from Vietnam, where he is set to meet with Kim Jong Un of North Korea. The president tweeted: “Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately). He had other clients also. He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”
Cohen attempts to get out in front of the doubts in his testimony, which he’ll deliver under oath. “I recognize that some of you may doubt and attack me on my credibility,” he writes. “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.”
UPDATES — I missed the first half hour but I am listening. Cohen’s reading of the opening statement is much more powerful when read aloud.
"The President of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate finance laws."— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) February 27, 2019
Seems bad when you put it that way.
One thing this testimony does is simply focus attention on the fact that we basically ALREADY KNOW the president committed a felony that was done in direct furtherance of his campaign.— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) February 27, 2019
Again Cohen admits he has no direct proof of collusion but he is now detailing a moment in Trump’s office where he believes Don Jr was telling Trump about the June 2016 TT meeting with Russians offering direct on Hillary Clinton. (Still, Cohen is not offering proof of this.)— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) February 27, 2019
Quite a remarkable moment in American history, no matter what side of the aisle you're on, to hear a statement like that about a President of the United States from a man who worked for that president for more than a decade.— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 27, 2019
"He's a fake witness, and his presence here is a travesty," says Rep. Mark Green, a first-term Republican from Tennessee.— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) February 27, 2019
Republicans on the Committee are attacking Cohen’s credibility. Predictably. But the “invisible chair” – Trump – is in the room and it is hard to attack Cohen as a charlatan and liar without thinking of his former boss.