Terry H. Schwadron
Feb. 28, 2019
All that was missing these last couple of days was Tinkerbelle.
You know, if you believe, clap your hands.
There has been Democratic clapping aplenty, but then throughout Michael Cohen’s dramatic Congressional testimony, throughout the leadup to a House vote to repudiate the president’s emergency declaration, throughout the baffling summit scene in Hanoi in which the president was claiming progress with North Korea that no one else can see, most Republican leaders just sat on their hands, or worse, simply shut their ears to what was being said.
Instead, they merely berated Cohen as a convicted liar, a “rat,” as the President would say, hardly challenging the substance of what he had to say.
The failures of the Cohen testimony are much broader than any of the particulars that Cohen offered. They are the sad, tawdry fact that we had to undergo the hearings altogether.
There is plenty of summarizing and analysis available in the media today about the value or not of particular statements by a spurned and self-reforming Cohen about the mobster-like behavior of the president, his longtime boss.
The picture he painted was of a boorish, careless, uncaring, racist egotist businessman-turned-President who simply expected people in his circle and employ to lie on his behalf, to protect him from untoward criticism or attack, to fix anything that looked like a problem. Okay, we get that. Here’s the transcript.
President Trump is a bad guy, whether you’re a Trump supporter or critic. So far, it was a victory for tawdriness.
But no Republican asked the next question: If Cohen is such a disreputable, awful person, why did Trump hire him and keep him close for 10 years? As legal commentators suggested, prosecutors often must deal with testimony from convicted liars — and usually, in the end, suggest that it was the defendant’s choice to have the liar as an associate.
We were well beyond our appetite for disgust; the real question was whether there was anything to the testimony that added up to actual crimes (although there were details that may prove useful to prosecutors), and to impeachable offense.
What we saw playing out yesterday, and in the events of this week, and of all the recent investigations and questions was naked partisan politics. Republican after Republican tried to take down Cohen, the whistleblower, rather than to try to make sense of what he may have been bringing to the table. That too has been pretty well expected, because even Cohen noted at one point that no Republican had asked about the president.
But what it adds up to something much worse.
That only a trickle of Republicans could cross over partisan lines to say that the President’s emergency declaration seriously bruises constitutional authorities, that Republicans continue to attack anyone who challenges Trump all suggest just one thing: The chances that any of the investigations into fraud, financial crimes, campaign law violations and, finally, any charges (or not) that emerge from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller will support a successful call for impeachment are nil.
The spectacle of watching the parade of Trump defenders attacking Cohen, the disgraced and now disbarred Trump fixer, seemed to me to be a guarantee that two-thirds of the Republican-majority Senate will never form. Without that as a threat, at least, we are in for simply an endless tweetstorm of denial of blame.
A lot of what a pained and, yes, newly disloyal Cohen brought to the table were allegations that Republicans will merely bat aside. But Cohen brought canceled checks from Trump and the Trump Organization with him that showed that the conspiracy to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels reaches to the president. Along the way, Cohen showed the full portrait of a self-obsessed cheat who has only disgust for the law. So much for Trump being the law-and-order guy.
Cohen claimed to have overheard the president and Donald Trump Jr. talking about the Trump Tower meeting with Russians, and that Trump was aware that Roger Stone was working with Wikileaks to deliver dirt from stolen Clinton campaign emails, though there was no evidence at the hearing to corroborate his reports. From Cohen, we learned that Trump did not need to say outright that Cohen should lie to Congress, but spoke in a kind of code that Cohen understood after a decade serving Trump’s needs.
Cohen also said he felt threatened by Trump, his family and supporters. That wasn’t such a far-flung idea, of course, since Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-FL, himself had tweeted a rude threat just the night before the testimony (which someone might want to look at attempted witness tampering)
Republicans spent their time undercutting Cohen, never even mentioning the president or any of the behaviors leading to the day’s testimony. The only relevant fact is that Cohen had been convicted of lying to Congress — something Cohen fully acknowledged that he had done in order to protect that same president.
We were promised a legal donnybrook between Cohen and Trump, a debate that might move Americans to a more negative view of Trump’s presidency. What we got was a load of pitiful swampiness about the White House, and much clearer certainty that it will take a tidal wave to wash away this president.
For all the denunciation of Cohen as a habitual liar, why aren’t the same Republicans targeting the lying of the president?