It is said that Americans are a forgiving lot, living in a land of second—even third—chances for those who stray from the straight and narrow...providing those sinners show contrition as a condition for redemption. Not so for the 17 Republicans (presumed to be Americans) on the House Oversight Committee who met in D. C. last Wednesday to hear the confession of Michael D. Cohen. They slashed away for about eight hours at the credibility and character of President Trump’s former personal lawyer and “fixer” who had turned on his boss after ten years of loyal service.
I had to admit it was truly an impressive job of savage shaming—skillfully done, with scarcely a mention of Cohen’s “boss,” who was at that very moment in Vietnam botching his latest try at “transactional” diplomacy with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. Then I reminded myself that Republicans are superb at framing arguments and often win with the weaker case. (Too bad they can’t bring that same gift to governing a nation.)
Even the 21 Democrats on the Committee were slow to give Cohen their trust, having had him lie to them in previous testimony. They, though, did not avoid mentioning President Trump and his prominent part in Cohen’s perjury—or the threat Trump poses to our democracy.
I was sooner to accept Cohen’s fulsome apology for past lies. He seemed to me sincere in his vow to clean up his life. In his opening remarks he said of Trump, “He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat.” Good start, I thought. But we already knew all that; there had to be more. There was. While some pundits have said the hearing produced little that was new, I found some shiny nuggets in the narrative stream.
First off, there was projected for all in the hearing room to see Document One, a facsimile of a check for $35,000 payable to Cohen for “legal services,” which actually was one month’s payment to reimburse him for buying the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels. “The Check” signed by Trump was dated August 1, 2017, when he was president! (Did he sign it in the White House? Maybe in he hallowed Oval Office where so many great matters of state have been handled? I think this item, prominently flaunting Dear Leader’s Gothic signature, would make a juicy footnote in some future, comprehensive History of United States, vying with one of Warren G. Harding’s more lurid capers for “most read.”)
Not only was the transaction a criminal violation of campaign finance law, it probably piqued the interest of agents at the Internal Revenue Service. Writing off as a business expense a $130,000 settlement to a failed romance with a porn star seems a stretch to me. And did Ms. Stormy declare that handsome sum as income? I’ll stop here with my musings. Truth is, I haven’t read the revised tax code since Trump and his GOP minions revised it to benefit the...uh, middle class. Who knows? They may even have included a new loophole for the licentious —say, for example, fornicators with an adjusted gross income above $500,000 can claim an extra tax credit. Everything unfair has its place in a Trumpian world.
For me the most Trump-damning revelation in Cohen’s testimony was his claim that on either July 18 or 19, 2016, he was in candidate Trump’s Trump Tower office and listened in on a speaker-phone conversation.
Between? The president and that Iago for our time, Roger Stone.
The subject? Stone told Trump that he had just spoken with WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange who informed him that a massive drop of Hillary Clinton emails was imminent.
The response? Something like “wouldn’t that be great.”
The rub? Trump had denied in writing to Special Counsel Robert Mueller that he had any knowledge of the transaction. Did Mueller already know he was lying? Or was this new evidence that Trump perjured himself?
Cohen also testified that in early June of 2016 he was in a meeting with candidate Trump when Donald Trump, Jr. came in and in a loud whisper said to his father “The meeting is all set.”
Trump responded with a “Good. Let me know.”
Cohen believes this referred to the infamous Trump Tower meeting of June 9 with the Russians in which “dirt on Hillary” was discussed out of Trump’s hearing, but not his knowing. Does Mueller already suspect this? Or would Cohen’s claim only corroborate what Mueller already knew?
I sat enrapt and attentive throughout the entire House Oversight Committee hearing, wondering why the Republican hit squad never challenged Cohen on his dealings with Trump, but stayed focused on Cohen’s many crimes, as though they were not done in service to his boss. At one moment in the proceedings everybody seemed to gasp silently and pause to gain their bearings. It came when Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, rather late in the hearing, asked Cohen if there were “any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven’t discussed yet?”
Cohen didn’t pause for the tension to build. “Yes,” he replied, ”those are a part of the investigation that’s being looked at by the Southern District of New York.”
Ouch! A sharp left hook lands.
GOP ferocity seemed to abate a bit after that blow as all thoughts momentarily turned to Gotham and what awaits Trump and his gang of thugs there. Insiders tell us that whatever Special Counsel Robert Mueller may have on Trump in the Russia probe is a side-show compared to the three-ring circus of crime being exhumed and examined in the Big Apple. Picture the Joker, the Penguin, and the Riddler dancing the tarantella with Satan on Fifth Avenue while Donald J. Trump, smoking gun in his hand, cheers them on. If they televise this Manhattan spectacle, be sure to lay in a half-ton of popcorn.
Nudge, nudge. My editor (me) is telling his writer (me) to wrap it up. I have exceeded my space limit. OK. I will end Part I here and now, with the promise of a Part II in a few days, in which I get really personal.