Michael Cohen’s public testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday played out about like you’d expect it to play out and it will continue to do so for the remainder of the day.
Cohen’s prepared remarks – released ahead of time and posted in full here – painted a familiar picture of Donald Trump as a “racist, a conman and a cheat” (we would quibble with the order there, but then again, I suppose Cohen knows better than we do).
Over the first hour of his testimony, Cohen generally backed up that assessment with his responses to questions from lawmakers.
Predictably, Republicans were keen to cast doubt on Cohen’s credibility, a strategy that, paradoxically, was undercut by the fact that his credibility was already zero by the time he arrived on Capitol Hill this week. When somebody has been put through the proverbial wringer as Cohen has and when that person is already bound for prison, demeaning them in public isn’t particularly effective due to the inherent impossibility of sending someone spiraling lower than “rock bottom.”
Additionally, it’s still not entirely clear what Cohen’s motivation would be for lying at this juncture and even if you think he might be inclined to tell stories out of some deep-seated desire to get back at Trump for setting him on a path that, ultimately, led to a prison cell, that didn’t come through in his palpably somber testimony.
For instance, Cohen had the opportunity to explicitly implicate Trump in collusion during an exchange with Debbie Wasserman Schultz and he didn’t do it. Instead, he stated clearly that Roger Stone was a “free agent” and remarked that speculating on the “collusion” story was a bridge too far.
Notably, Wasserman Schultz gave him an out (i.e., plausible deniability by allowing him to express it as an opinion as opposed to a statement of fact) by throwing in a “do you believe?” when asking whether Trump was “capable of colluding with a foreign power”. Cohen’s response:
That calls on so much speculation that it would be unfair for me to…
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Lanny Davis was sitting right there with him. Had he wanted to, Cohen could have just said “of course.” Instead, his initial response effectively forced Wasserman Schultz to throw in a series of qualifiers that ultimately allowed Cohen to frame his answer around Trump’s well-known (and self-professed) penchant for “winning” at all costs. Here is the exchange:
Sorry, but that doesn’t sound like the response of somebody who went to Capitol Hill this week with the express intention of exaggerating what he does and doesn’t know in the interest of pushing a false narrative about the president. Rather, that sounds like someone who is simply stating the obvious, which in this case is that whatever you think you know about Trump’s willingness to subjugate all other concerns to his ego (read: to “winning”), all of that is correct and when it comes to whether that dedication to winning at all costs might or could translate into accepting help from a foreign power in the course of gaining the upper hand in an election, the answer is obviously “yes.”
And not a bombastic, hair-on-fire “yes”, but rather a “well, yeah, obviously” type of “yes” – because after all, we’re talking about Trump.
Asked whether Ivanka and Don Jr. might have been compromised by Russia based on their involvement in the Trump Tower Moscow deal, Cohen again gave a flat answer: “yes.” There was not even a hint of hesitation and there was no sign of malice. If anything, Cohen looks like it pains him enormously to have to answer in the affirmative.
Further, Cohen refused to take the bait when given the chance to implicate Trump in a directive to Roger Stone to “indicate the campaign’s interest” to Wikileaks in stolen e-mails. Here is the clip that documents that exchange:
At one point, Cohen lost it with Jim Jordan. Suffice to say, this didn’t go well for ol’ Jim:
If you want to see one clip that pretty much encapsulates Republican efforts to undermine Cohen only to have Cohen upstage them by throwing himself under the bus, watch below as James Comer struggles to come up with a solid reply after asking a leading question and getting an answer he clearly did not expect:
Nothing further for now.