When California Rep. Jackie Speier asked Michael Cohen during his congressional testimony how many times he had threatened people or entities on Donald Trump’s behalf, Cohen paused momentarily, searching for how to quantify such a number.
“Quite a few times,” was what Cohen finally settled on. “50 times?” Speier wondered. More. 100 times? More. 200 times? More. 500 times? That seemed like a decent ballpark. “Probably,” Cohen responded.
Cohen, Trump’s erstwhile loyal and remorseless attack dog, spent his testimony Wednesday trying to undo at least some of the damage he had done in the decade that he worked for Trump. Regardless of whether you believe in the sincerity of Cohen’s contrition, he had every reason to tell truth, both due to the threat of extending his three-year prison sentence and the potential sweetener of reducing it. But whatever Cohen’s motivations, he painted a vivid picture of Trump’s sweeping and breathtakingly petty criminal enterprise all driven by his insatiable desire for aggrandizement. Trump’s entire life—his smarts, his wealth, his business prowess, his desirability—is a fraud and maintaining that deceit is an all-consuming proposition for absolutely everyone in Trump’s orbit.
“I wound up touting the Trump narrative for over a decade,” Cohen explained in his opening remarks. “That was my job. Always stay on message. Always defend. It monopolized my life.”
At one point, a liberated Cohen declared, “I am no longer your fixer, Mr. Trump.” But frankly, Trump doesn’t really need a solitary lawyer from a shoddy mom-and-pop shop doing his bidding anymore. Now Trump effectively has an entire political party doing the dirty deeds that Cohen once attended to.
In fact, heading into Cohen’s testimony, one of Trump’s favorite GOP henchman, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, directed a little thuggery at Trump’s defector—threatening Cohen with a disclosure of extra-marital affairs.
“Do your wife and father-in-law know about your girlfriends?” Gaetz wrote on the eve of Cohen’s testimony. “Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat.”
Gaetz’s witness intimidation tactics were so over the line that he ultimately deleted the tweet and made a public apology over Twitter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Just revel in that for a second—a Trump hatchet man in such a sweat over his felonious behavior that he literally has to write “I’m sorry” to GOP archenemy Nancy Pelosi.
But Gaetz’s tweet presaged a day of testimony in which nearly every one of Cohen’s GOP questioners sought to malign, shame, and discredit him—never mind the fact that it was Trump who hired him and kept him around for 10 years. As former U.S. Attorney David Kelley told MSNBC’s Ari Melber, “The government didn’t pick Cohen as their witness, Trump did.”
No matter what Cohen said or did, Republican lawmakers dismissed him as a “pathological liar.” Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar saw fit to literally hurl the schoolyard taunt at Cohen, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” That’s apparently what the hearing preparation of a five-term congressman yields in today’s Republican party.
Republicans should have been ashamed, embarrassed, even remorseful perhaps for helping to create and foster the farce now consuming our country. But instead, they were steadfastly unapologetic and unconcerned by the Pandora’s box of illicit activity Cohen cracked open. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the ranking GOP member on the Oversight Committee, just wasn’t that impressed by the Trump-directed criminal conspiracy to cover up hush money payments that Cohen detailed from end to end. So what if Cohen brought corroboration in the form of checks signed by Trump, Don Jr. and Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg?
“I think it’s news we knew about,” Jordan flippantly told CNN, because a conspiracy to defraud the American people, hatched on the campaign trail and carried out from within the White House, is so last week.
That’s because the Republican party, or what’s left of it, now exists in sole service of Donald Trump’s fraud. Neither principle nor ideal of any sort guides the party—just the destruction of objective reality, lest it exposes Trump as the petty and impotent huckster to whom they have sold their souls. As Peter Wehner wrote in the New York Times:
More than tax cuts. More than trade wars. More even than building a wall on our southern border. Republicans are dedicated to annihilating truth in order to defend Mr. Trump and they will go after anyone, from Mr. Cohen to Robert Mueller, who is a threat to him.
Republicans weren’t attacking Cohen this week, they were attacking truth itself because truth and Trump are mutually exclusive propositions. They cannot coexist and the survival of one depends on the destruction of the other.
Cohen spoke to that reality with the wisdom of a man who has been there, and he warned lawmakers and the country alike about the path he saw them sliding down.
“Everybody’s job at the Trump Organization is to protect Mr. Trump,” Cohen told lawmakers. “Every day, most of us knew we were coming in and we were going to lie for him on something. And that became the norm. And that is exactly what is happening right now in this country and it is exactly what’s happening here in government, sir.”
At the end of Trump’s first 100 days in office, a fellow Manhattanite who had decades of experience tangling with Trump foretold where the country was headed.
“As anyone who has followed his jerry-rigged career from the 1980s onward will tell you, Trump just drags you to the bottom of the pond every time,” wrote former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. “Decades ago, he was a short-fingered vulgarian tooling around town in a mauve stretch limo, reeking of Brut. In those days, competitors, subcontractors, politicians, and wives were the ones who found themselves mired in the Trump muck. Now it is the country that’s up to its knees in it.”
Pretty damn close to the entire Republican party—roughly a third of the country—is now mired Trump’s swampland. It’s up to the rest of us to keep the remainder of the country from getting sucked under.