Last week was an interesting news week between covering President Trump in Vietnam and Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen’s testimony in Washington. At least Trump and Jane Fonda can now both claim to have been to North Vietnam, or in Trump’s case, what was once North Vietnam.
At first Trump and Republicans complained that the Democrats intentionally scheduled Cohen’s appearance to undermine or diminish the anticipated great deal Trump was going to get from North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un, a deal that Trump hoped would lead to the Nobel Peace Prize. But as it turned out, if you believe in conspiracy theories to explain things that don’t go your way, Cohen took the spotlight off of Trump.
It is hard to believe that Trump’s advance team who dealt with North Korean officials at the highest level didn’t warn Trump that Kim was serious about the U.S. removing sanctions before destroying his nuclear capability. But Trump being Trump, the self-professed great negotiator, probably thought he could schmooze Kim into changing his mind. If Trump was inclined to pardon Cohen, an unlikely occurrence, it would be fair to call it a “thank you” for Cohen diverting attention from the deal collapse in Vietnam.
Republicans spent the whole hearing tearing down Cohen’s credibility, pounding Cohen for being a convicted perjurer, for recanting any number of things he did and said over the past decade. That’s fair game, except this wasn’t a trial. It probably would have added to the hearing if the Republicans tried to get to the truth of Cohen’s testimony. Meanwhile, there are those, myself included, who found Cohen to be a credible witness.
Cohen has spent a lot of time with special prosecutor Robert Mueller and Mueller’s assistants. Every prosecutor knows that when you have a pretty disgusting witness like Cohen it is imperative to corroborate every single material detail to the Nth degree. Crimes wouldn’t be prosecuted if it wasn’t for people like Cohen who have information of import but who carry a lot of distasteful baggage. As a prominent New York lawyer once told me, you don’t find swans in sewers, which was Cohen’s Main Street. Trump knew the dirt bag he was dealing with, and they had a great relationship, while it lasted, because they were birds of the same feather---but not swans.
The one day hearing didn’t elicit a lot of information, if any, that would be helpful or add to what prosecutors already know. But it doesn’t matter since Mueller, and now prosecutors in New York and Washington, D.C. have that information---where it really matters. What Cohen showed was a raw, nasty underbelly of this sitting president. We were told repeatedly when Bill Clinton was president that character counts. If it still does, then the American people deserve to have this information to cast an informed vote---one way or the other---but at least fully informed.
Republicans cast all sorts of aspersions on the Democrats and Cohen for this showcase hearing. Fair enough. But if they are going to be “fair and balanced”, they should juxtapose the hearing alongside the Benghazi hearings that lasted for a couple of years and the remark that then California House Republican Majority Leader Keven McCarthy told Sean Hannity, “…that the Clinton investigation was part of a “strategy to fight and win. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought.”
Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who grilled Cohen from scripted notes, is one of Trump’s biggest supporters and had his Republican cheerleaders with him as they relentlessly attacked Cohen. These loyalists have been steadfast in supporting Trump and foreign dictators like Vladimire Putin over our intelligence chiefs, who said that the Russians didn’t interfere with the 2016 election; Kim Jong Un, who Trump believes when he said he had nothing to do with the death of the American college student Otto Warmbier; Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who Trump believes over our intelligence officials when bin Salman says he had nothing to do with journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
The good news for Republicans who have trashed Mueller and his investigation for so long is that it’s about over. The bad news is that career prosecutors in New York and Washington will take over and pursue indictments in every instance where justified. Michael Cohen will probably be a key witness in grand juries and at any trials. We will then know how credible---or not---he is. Cohen is in for a rough ride, but so are the people he has information on.