Congressional Republicans went so far out of their way to try to smear Michael Cohen at Wednesday’s House Oversight Committee hearing that Cohen himself called them on it.
It was “interesting,” Cohen told ranking GOP member Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) two-and-a-half hours into the hearing, that “between yourself and your colleagues that not one question so far since I’m here has been asked about President Trump.”
For the bulk of the seven hour hearing, Republican lawmakers talked about everything but. They framed Cohen’s testimony as the fruit of a conspiratorial impeachment scheme hatched by Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer and his lackeys. They accused Cohen of trying to use his testimony for some future book or movie deal. They repeatedly quoted from a “Women for Cohen” Twitter account that Cohen maintained during the 2016 campaign. Oftentimes, they asked no questions at all, devoting their allotted time to smearing Cohen as a “pathological liar” and “disgraced lawyer.”
Committee Republicans kicked off the hearing by trying to get it postponed, and said, over and over, that Cohen’s testimony was worthless because he’s already pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.
By trying to defend Trump, the committee’s GOP members hammered home that the former deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee and handpicked fixer for the President happened to be a liar, cheat, and admitted criminal.
Cohen readily copped to his misconduct, telling lawmakers that he was going to prison in part because he lied to members of Congress and that it wasn’t in his own interest to do so again.
“I’m not sure how my appearance here today is providing substantial information that the Southern District [of New York] can use,” Cohen said when asked if he was trying to reduce his prison time through his testimony. “Now, if there is something that this group can do for me I would gladly welcome it.”
Cohen — who is not exactly known for his witty repartee — fell back on that sort of dry, deadpan humor throughout the hearing, twisting leading remarks back on Republican questioners. (Informed he didn’t “know truth from falsehood,” Cohen cracked, “Are you referring to me or the President?”)
One of the main GOP lines of attack was presented by Jordan in his opening statement. The entire testimony, Jordan alleged, was orchestrated by Cohen’s attorney and “the Clintons’ best friend,” Lanny Davis. Working in collaboration with Steyer, committee chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Democrats in general, Davis had found the perfect “patsy” for their plot to force Trump from office.
Republicans questioned who fronted Cohen’s expenses for his trip to D.C. (himself, he said) and insisted there was something suspicious about Cohen and Davis communicating with the chairman of the committee he’d be appearing before about the contours of his testimony.
“I find the connecting of the dots here with — with Mr. Davis and you and frankly the chairman and perhaps others to be rather stunning. That there is an agenda for all this happening here today, and I believe, frankly, that that’s to bring the President down, to impugn the President,” Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) said during his questioning.
The other major reason Cohen turned up on Wednesday, Republicans speculated, was to try to secure a future book or film deal.
Rep. Mark Green (R-TN), Rep. Michael Cloud (R-TX), and Rep. Carol Miller (R-WV) were among the GOP lawmakers who seized on the idea that Cohen was using his testimony as material for some later creative endeavor.
“I think you mentioned in your opening statement that you had been disbarred,” Green said. “What is your source of income in the future?”
“I don’t expect I’m going to have a source of income when I’m in the federal penitentiary,” Cohen replied.
“Is there a book deal coming?” Green pressed.
“I have no book deal in the process,” Cohen replied.
During Miller’s questioning, Cohen acknowledged that he had shopped around another book about Trump “early on when I was still part of the RNC.”
There were more esoteric lines of questioning and comment, too. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) — who resigned as a police officer over his excessive use of force and made false statements during an internal investigation — cited the Bible while chastising Cohen for his lack of credibility. Several lawmakers, including Jordan and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), quoted at length from the “Women for Cohen” Twitter account.
“This is all about you and this is all about this Twitter feed,” Gosar said, reading the bio describing Cohen as “strong, pitbull, sex symbol, no nonsense.”
“There’s no truth with you whatsoever and that’s why that’s important to you to look up here and look at the old adage that our moms taught us, liar, liar, pants on fire,” Gosar continued, pointing to a sign the House GOP made up with a photo of Cohen and that adage. “No one should ever listen to you and give you credibility.”
“We were having fun,” Cohen said of the Twitter account. “That’s what it was, sir. We were having fun.”
In one cringe-inducing exchange, Higgins asked Cohen to explain what happened to the “boxes” of evidence he’d claimed to have that bolstered his testimony. They’d been given to the FBI, who raided his home and office last April, a baffled Cohen explained.
The lone Republican who pushed Cohen on substantive points was Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who asked about Trump’s habit of communicating with his associates in code and why Trump would hire Cohen given his “bad character.”
That very legitimate question was what undercut all of his Republican colleagues’ finger-pointing, sign-waving political theater.
Under penalty of perjury, Cohen refuted a rash of outlandish rumors and negative stories about Trump, ranging from whether he’d ever paid for a mistress’ abortion à la Elliott Broidy to the existence of a tape that shows him striking his wife Melania in a Trump Tower elevator.
Notably, Cohen knocked down two key points from the so-called “Steele dossier.” Cohen reiterated that he never traveled to Prague to secretly meet with Russian officials in the summer of 2016, and that he had no reason to believe the “pee tape” of Trump cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room existed.
As Cohen pointed out, he is already reporting to prison for a three-year sentence in May. Acting out of self-interest at this point means telling the truth.
“The lies that I told to Congress, in fairness, benefited Mr. Trump,” Cohen said at one point.
“I am not protecting Mr. Trump anymore,” he added.