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Hullabaloo


Thursday, February 28, 2019

 

This is not the end

by Tom Sullivan

If Republicans on the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday thought they were there to defend the sitting president from a Democrat-led inquiry into his financial crimes, they failed. Instead, they relentlessly challenged Michael Cohen's credibility as a felon convicted of lying to Congress and conspiring to violate campaign finance laws. One of Cohen's co-conspirators in the campaign finance felonies, Individual 1, is the president of the United States. But they were too busy attacking Cohen to notice they were undermining Donald Trump.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) summarized the strategy of Republican members for Cohen, saying, “Our colleagues are not upset because you lied to Congress for the president. They’re upset because you stopped lying to Congress for the president.”

Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney, was not a sympathetic figure. His opening statement focused on his criminal schemes involving Trump and avoided mention of his individual charges for tax evasion and fraud. Republicans on the committee reminded him.

But rage as they might, Republicans failed at making Cohen cower. The amateur bullies faced a seasoned professional. Whatever one thinks of Cohen, his contrition or his credibility, he intimidated people for a living.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) asked Cohen how many times he had threatened people (with legal action) for Trump:

“Quite a few times,” Cohen answered.

“50 times?” Speier asked.

“More.”

“100 times?”

“More.”

“200 times?”

“More,” Cohen responded.

Speier asked finally, “500 times?”

“Probably, over the 10 years.”
Republicans were outclassed in the bullying department, and unprepared to defend the president. They failed to rebut Cohen's testimony and never defended the president from Cohen's allegations.

Attorney and former federal prosecutor Ken White critiqued both Republicans and Democrats on the panel.

"House Republicans needed a trial lawyer—or even a moderately bright junior-high mock-trial participant—to tell them how to do anything," White writes in The Atlantic. Cohen did himself few favors as a witness by baiting his interrogators even when they deserved it, White added.

And Democrats?
This was an opportunity to build the outline of a case against Trump. Democrats didn’t. Instead they triumphantly repeated Cohen’s more salacious accusations, speechified, and uncritically embraced Cohen’s I-am-a-sinner-seeking-redemption narrative. They didn’t hurt his credibility, but they utterly squandered the chance to support it.
But perhaps not all. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in deliberate and sober questioning laid the groundwork for House Democrats to subpoena Trump's taxes and Trump Organization financial records. Federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York will likely have them first. SDNY investigations were a real presence in the room on Wednesday and perhaps the greater threat to the Trump Organization.

"Where this ends is a RICO charge in the Southern District of New York," Cohen's friend Donny Deutsch told MSNBC's Ari Melber. Two quotes from the day stand out. Cohen tied Trump directly to Wikileaks via Roger Stone:
... I was in Mr. Trump's office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect of "wouldn't that be great."
It is not criminal, but damaging politically. In the past, Stone has denied the link, Jeffrey Toobin wrote:
“I have no memory of ever talking about WikiLeaks with him,” Stone told me in Fort Lauderdale. Responding to persistent rumors that Mueller has a witness who says he heard Trump and Stone on a speakerphone discussing WikiLeaks, Stone said, “Prove it.”
Cohen is that witness, and perhaps Trump's secretary too. The danger for Trump now is other Trump Organization employees, although they are few, may see an opening for abandoning a sinking ship, as may White House staff.

Cohen made that danger explicit in a damning statement to Trump's defenders: "I did the same thing that you're doing now for 10 years. I protected Mr Trump for 10 years," Cohen said. "I can only warn people, the more people follow Mr. Trump, as I did blindly, are going to suffer the consequences that I'm suffering."

Those words will outlive those of Trump's defenders. The former Trump "fixer' delivered them like an oracle in Act 1 of a Greek tragedy. We know what happens in the final act.