Donald Trump’s personal attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen is expected to spend a long day on Wednesday, testifying in front of the House Oversight Committee. Between snippets of Cohen’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, and a release of his opening statement, the major themes of what Cohen had to reveal are clear—Trump is a “racist,” a “conman” and “a cheat.” And those are his good qualities.
- Donald Trump knew about the communications between Roger Stone and WikiLeaks and cheered it on.
- Trump stayed in continuous contact with Cohen over the Moscow Project and directed negotiations.
- Trump’s attorneys altered the dates of events concerning the Moscow Project in Cohen’s previous testimony to Congress.
- Cohen doesn’t know if Trump was aware of the Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives, but he has “suspicions” that Trump knew.
- Trump definitely knew about the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, and personally signed a check to reimburse Cohen for the payments while in office.
Cohen will also catalog some of Trump’s other actions, from creating a fake bidder to buy a portrait of himself using charity funds, to instructing Cohen to bully representatives from his schools—all the way back to high school—to prevent anyone releasing any information on his academic performance. In a way, Cohen is painting another portrait, one that’s all too familiar, of Trump as “a liar, a racist, and a cheat.”
But Cohen’s opening statement, filled as it is with potential for follow-ups, may be frustrating. Whether the word is “collusion” or “conspiracy” this statement may be as much as questioners are allowed to explore Russia-related topics on Wednesday. Despite Cohen’s conviction, despite all the rumors of Robert Mueller being ready to hand in his paperwork, and in spite of the fact that Cohen was asked to delay his testimony to this date “to protect the investigation,” Democrats on the committee have apparently been given the instruction to steer clear of Russia as part of an agreement with the special counsel’s office. If Cohen has more information on Trump’s knowledge of connections between the campaign and Russia, or more details to offer on the Moscow Project, that information may not be made public on Wednesday.
That Trump was aware of and took part in the hush money payments should come as no particular shock, since it was already clear from recordings made by Cohen that Trump helped plan the payoffs to both women. Still, the image of Trump sitting in the Oval Office and writing out a check used to trick a woman into silence is an ugly detail, especially when that payment also happens to be a felony violation of campaign finance law.
As for Republicans on the committee … it’s not clear they’ve been told to steer clear of anything. Republican Matt Gaetz spent Tuesday in the not-so-subtle art of using social media for witness intimidation, then snickered his way to a Twitter non-pology when it looked as if his obstruction was going to land him in front of the Ethics Committee. Gaetz isn’t on the committee, but the technique he deployed—insinuation mixed with disdain and a side-order of threat—can be expected to get a lot of air time on the right side of the aisle. If Republicans spend a minute doing anything more than paraphrasing “Mr. Liar Liar, why are you such a liar, you liar?” that minute will likely be devoted to dark hints about potential crimes committed by Cohen’s family.
Republicans are also expected to lean hard on the idea that Cohen has already been convicted of lying to Congress, so nothing he says can be taken seriously. Even when one of the things he’s saying is that Trump created the lies on which he was convicted.
Overnight Trump made another attempt to distance himself from the man who for years had the adjoining office at Trump Tower, declaring that Cohen was just “one of many lawyers who represented me.” Meanwhile, as the Washington Post reports, Trump’s current “fixer” took up the task of threatening Cohen’s family.
Rudy Giuliani said: He bragged he was connected to Russian organized crime and he may be. His father in law who gave him millions to [invest] was convicted of tax fraud in a money laundering operation. Let’s see if these Democrats want to ask about his many crimes having nothing to do with anyone but his coterie of business associates with questionable connections.
Democrats won’t ask those questions. That’s not because Democrats are coddling Michael Cohen, but because those things are just what Giuliani says—unconnected to Trump. Which is not what the hearing is about.
It will be a hearing in which Democrats attempt to extract information, and Republicans spend all their time stomping on the character of the witness. Which means the hearing will be very much like almost every other hearing of the Russia-investigation in the House. Except this time Democrats will have the first word, the last word, and the majority of those in the middle.
And if Cohen knows these details, just imagine how much Mueller knows.