Not one Republican asked one question of Michael Cohen that was intended to find out whether Donald Trump has done a single thing illegal or even unwise, let alone impeachable. They didn’t even pretend to care.
Instead, the Republican members of the House Oversight Committee seemed anxious to demonstrate their obedience and loyalty to Trump, oft-times seeming like blind partisan loyalty. (There was one exception, Justin Amash, R-Michigan, whose questioning was strangely sweet and nonpartisan. Amash asked Cohen to talk about the principles he has chosen to follow in his life.)
But as for the rest, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I expected the Republicans to be skeptical of Michael Cohen’s testimony (and, oh, boy were they ever) and I expected them to point out that his current version of events contradicts many lies he told during his past as a loyal Trump henchman. I expected them to be rough on him, and thought they might argue that a ratfink who previously profited off his relationship with Trump deserves that.
But as I watched the whole daylong interrogation of Cohen, I confess I thought some of the Republicans would show some interest — at least fake but maybe even some real interest by the best of them — about whether the current occupant of the Oval is guilty or even mildly implicated in any of the wrongdoing that allegedly helped Trump get elected.
I mean, c’mon. Be loyal to your party within reason. Be skeptical of the various accusations. But at least pretend you care about the teensy possibility that the president’s accusers and disbelievers are not just making up all evidence behind those accusations.
With that said, I should also say that Cohen day at the committee produced relatively little in the way of new blockbusters, although it did produce a fair bit of important leads and some new documentation that will help those trying to understand how low our president is capable of sinking.
My mind went back to Watergate. Yes, there were Republicans in both the House and Senate inquiries of alleged wrongdoing by President Richard Nixon who thought their job was to defend their guy. And there were Democrats who thought their job was to convict.
But there were members of both parties in both houses who recognized a higher loyalty to truth and the law and importance of having a president who was not a crook. Sen. Howard Baker, the leader of the Republicans on the Senate special committee in Watergate days, and Rep. Bill Cohen, R-Maine, who was on the House Judiciary Committee, come to mind.) Baker was famous for demanding of witness after witness a version of his refrain: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” And he didn’t let his partisan identity prevent him from pursuing that question, which ultimately helped get to the truth.
There was essentially none of that yesterday. Republican members seemed interested only in discrediting Cohen, who, when the final story comes in, may be an unlikely hero, in the literary anti-hero mode. I don’t claim to know whether he will — nor, certainly, how this ends. I’ve long since discovered that I don’t and perhaps can’t truly understand the depth of Donald Trump’s appeal to and hold on his admirers.
I swore I wouldn’t write too much or get into the details, of which few were blockbusters but some of which may, upon deeper examination, turn out to be case-breakers. I don’t claim to know. Cohen will go to prison, which he deserves, and get some leniency for turning state’s evidence, which he also deserves.
The New York Times noted in its summary of Cohen’s testimony that Trump paid him back for the $130,000 Cohen had paid porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her from going public about their sexual liaison. The reimbursement from Trump to Cohen came in several pieces from different sources, but one part was a check signed by Trump himself, Cohen said, and he produced the check with Trump’s signature on it.
But the Times story said its “experts cautioned that nothing Mr. Cohen said drastically altered what was known about any legal case against the president.”
CNN’s Chris Cillizza claimed to have learned eight things from Cohen, which he enumerates here, but confesses that they contain no silver bullet. He led with Cohen’s assertion that he listened over the speakerphone in Trump’s office as Roger Stone tipped Trump off to the timing of Julian Assange’s big dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
One last thing. This was no more than Cohen’s speculation, and there were no follow-up questions on it. But I don’t think anyone can dispute that Cohen is one of the world’s major experts on Donald Trump, which perhaps qualifies him to speculate on what Trump might be capable of, to hold on to power.
But, in passing, and without being asked a question that elicited it, Cohen said that if, perchance Trump makes it to the end of his term, and loses the 2020 election, he, Cohen, does not think Trump would allow a peaceful transfer of the power of the American presidency to the person who might beat him in that election. Again, this is not a fact, and no one asked Cohen to explain on what he based that statement, but it was a majorly creepy moment that perhaps merits some contingency planning.