Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday started with a bang. The opening statement delivered by President Trump’s former attorney and fixer was strewn with bombshell revelations, including claims that Trump knew about WikiLeaks plan to release Democratic National Committee emails hacked by Russia; that he was indirectly pressured by Trump to lie to Congress about negotiations surrounding a potential Trump Tower in Moscow; that Trump knew ahead of time that Donald Trump Jr. scheduled a meeting to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton provided by Russia; and more. Cohen elaborated on these claims, and on the general nature of how Trump conducted his business, as he fielded questions from committee members.
Not so much, though, in response to questions posed by Republican members of the House, who were more concerned in obstructing the proceedings and calling Cohen’s credibility rather than questioning his claims or learning anything about the president. In doing so, they reinforced what they made clear when they were in charge of the committee: that their allegiance lies not to the truth, but to protecting Trump at all costs. As Rep. James Raskin (D-MD) said while questioning Cohen, “[House Republicans] are not upset because you lied, they’re upset because you’ve stopped lying for the president.”
It began the instant the hearing started, when Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) asked committee chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) to postpone the proceedings because Cohen’s pre-written testimony was submitted Tuesday night rather than 24 hours before the hearing began. Committee members voted to let the hearing proceed, but Meadows — who was often yielded to by other Republican committee members — didn’t let up. At one point, he trotted out Lynn Patton, an official inside the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in an effort to prove that Trump isn’t racist, which Cohen claimed in his testimony. “She says that as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, there is no way she would work for an individual who is racist,” Meadows said. “How do you reconcile the two of those?”
Meadows added that over the course of “over 300” conservations with the president, he never heard him utter a racist comment. “How do you reconcile that?” he asked again.
A GOP congressman introduced a high-ranking political official at Dept. of Housing and Urban Development as a guest at Cohen's hearing.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 27, 2019
Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) later demolished the stunt by Meadows. “I just want to put on the record, as being a black American and having endured the public comments of racism from the sitting president — as a black person, I can only imagine what’s being said in private,” she said. “To prop up one member of our entire race of black people and say that that nullifies that is truly insulting.”
Meadows continued to operate in bad faith throughout the proceedings. At one point, he grilled Cohen over his failure to disclose his contracts with foreign entities on his “truth in testimony” disclosure form. After Trump was elected in 2016, Cohen entered into agreements with several foreign companies to provide insight into the president’s thinking. Cohen maintained that the section on the form to which Meadows was referring specifically asked about contacts with foreign governments, not private entities. Meadows insisted that the form asked for all foreign contacts, and used Cohen’s response as evidence that he isn’t a credible witness.
Meadows either couldn’t read the contract he was holding in his hands, or he was deliberately lying to make Cohen appear dishonest.
Here's an example of the truth in testimony disclosure form that Meadows is referring to. It asks about contracts with foreign *governments,* as Cohen stated, not non-government organizations https://t.co/QXf2KUQ03r pic.twitter.com/ANs5wK902w
— Lachlan Markay (@lachlan) February 27, 2019
Also starring for the GOP was ranking committee member Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who spent most of his time behind the microphone digging into Cohen’s past crimes that do not pertain to Trump in an effort to out Cohen as a career liar. Several other Republicans did the same, but no one belittled and berated Cohen with as much condescension as Jordan. Rather than challenging Cohen on his claims, Jordan mused about conspiracy theories about why Cohen attorney Lanny Davis was working pro-bono; liberal billionaire and impeachment advocate Tom Steyer potentially influencing Cohen; and whether Cohen had coordinated his testimony with Democratic leaders. Eventually, Cohen snapped back at him. “I just find it interesting, sir, that between yourself and your colleagues, that not one question so far since I’m here, has been asked about President Trump,” he said. “That’s actually why I thought I was coming today.”
The persistent efforts to discredit Cohen by Jordan and other Republicans were ironic in that all the criticisms they levied against him are true of the president to an even greater degree. If you’ve lied in the past, Republicans argued, you can never be trusted again. There is of course no disputing that Trump is a pathological liar who has provided countless legitimate reasons for the public not to trust a word out of his mouth. Rep. Cummings pointed out a sterling example of in his opening statement when he noted that Trump flatly told a reporter that he had no knowledge of the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels while at the same time signing checks to Cohen reimbursing him for the payment.
Nevertheless, Republicans were focused on smearing Cohen as an untrustworthy felon. They even erected a handy visual aid, perhaps in case Trump was watching from Vietnam.
A new sign on the House Republican side. pic.twitter.com/rfJdzccYY9
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) February 27, 2019
Some Republican lawmakers didn’t even attempt to veil their total capitulation to the president. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH) attacked Cohen for daring to speak ill of Trump “while he’s across the Pacific Ocean trying to negotiate a deal to make the world safer.” Rep. Carol Miller (R-WV) lamented that the committee was questioning Cohen instead of addressing border security. Rep. Glenn Grotham (R-WI) chose to spend some of his time disputing a line in Cohen’s testimony about Trump using his presidential campaign primarily to build his brand. “He was running very hard,” said Grotham.
Turning one’s dignity over to Trump can come with a price, however. No one knows this as well as Cohen, who on May 6th will begin a three-year term in federal prison for charges stemming from his relationship to the president. “I did the same thing that you’re doing now,” he warned Republicans. “For 10 years. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years … The more people that follow Mr. Trump, as I did blindly, are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.”
Cohen to GOP lawmakers: "I did the same thing that you're doing now. For ten years. I protected Mr. Trump for ten years." His warning to them: "The more people that follow Mr. Trump — as I did blindly — are going to suffer the same consequences that I'm suffering." pic.twitter.com/vGXvGMXWxC
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) February 27, 2019
We don’t think Republicans got the message.