Why you should care
Because more days like Wednesday could be a way for Dems to blow off steam.
Who needs impeachment hearings?
The central tension of this Democratic U.S. House is whether it will go through the exercise of putting President Donald Trump on trial for high crimes and misdemeanors. The party base demands action and accountability, while the elders look to Bill Clinton’s buoyant approval ratings in 1998 as a blinking red light.
This was the backdrop to Wednesday’s remarkable theater, with the president’s ex-fixer Michael Cohen spelling out Trump crimes old and new, with the parties lined up in their usual fashion. It all functions either as a preview of the impeachment to come … or as an alternative.
Cohen, whom Trump now calls a “rat” just to underscore the ample Mafia comparisons, is not a sympathetic character. (Nor is his attorney, Lanny Davis, a Clinton confidant whose client list has included African dictators and Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder.) Cohen is about to go to prison for lying to Congress about the ongoing 2016 negotiations to build Trump Tower Moscow, which we now know extended through most of the year even as Trump repeatedly and publicly denied them. And under the Republicans’ “Liar, liar, pants on fire” standard — so eloquently proffered by Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona — no one should believe anything he had to say. (Except, of course, Cohen denying wild rumors such as the “pee tape,” a secret Trump love child and that the president would ever hit his wife.)
Still, Cohen, sunken-eyed, at times wry, emotional and defensive, advanced the public record in significant ways:
- He provided checks that he says were reimbursements for payments he made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her affair with Trump, breaking campaign finance law. Cohen says Trump also called him to make sure they got their (false) story straight about the matter after The Wall Street Journal reported the payments.
- Cohen says Trump-tied lawyers including Jay Sekulow and Abbe Lowell (who represents Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump) edited his false congressional testimony about the Moscow deal, and Trump indirectly encouraged him to lie about the deal in a face-to-face meeting.
- Cohen says he overheard a call from Roger Stone to Trump in July 2016 in which Stone said he had talked with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and that there would be a public release of stolen Hillary Clinton emails in the coming days, to which Trump replied: “Wouldn’t that be great.” (Trump, WikiLeaks and Stone all deny this.)
- Cohen says Trump inflated his personal wealth in statements to Deutsche Bank and an insurance company.
The hearing also underscored the party-line nature of all this. Republicans were focused like a laser on showing that Cohen was untrustworthy, and thus the hearing was a colossal waste of time. As freshman Republican Chip Roy of Texas passionately exclaimed, “This is an embarrassment for our country!”
Meanwhile, the scattershot nature of Democratic questioning — from Trump allegedly misusing his charity to buy a painting to lying in a 2013 deposition about his relationship with Russian mobster Felix Sater — indicates the many avenues (or rabbit holes) for these investigations.
So media coverage has been completely consumed by the smorgasbord of Trump scandals rather than Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un. Trump’s motorcade arrived back at Hanoi’s JW Marriott from dinner with Kim just as Oversight Committee chairman Elijah Cummings pounded the gavel to begin the hearing. The president retweeted an earlier dig at Cohen but otherwise did not offer live commentary.
Cohen’s testimony, dramatic as it may have been, is unlikely to sway the political calculus of impeachment. It’s hard to imagine even a nuclear Robert Mueller report convincing 20 Senate Republicans to vote to remove Trump from office. Credit Trump’s ability to keep the vast majority of Republican voters on his side.
A series of hearings that dominate the news, unearthing new nuggets of potential criminality and unsavory behavior by the president could well be the way House Democratic leaders allow their members the social media–ready whacks at Trump they crave, without going through an impeachment exercise that almost certainly won’t dislodge him from office.
So plan on more days like Wednesday, across a whole fleet of committees, and a lot more face time for grandstanding members of Congress talking to the band of miscreants surrounding the president. (One for tabloid chief David Pecker would be a doozy.) The hearings are diagrammed to get rid of Trump just the same, but the preferred means will be the 2020 ballot.
Read more: This Georgia pastor is Trump’s first line of defense against impeachment.