Late last night, Michael Cohen's opening statement -- as prepared for today's testimony before the House Oversight Committee -- was released online. It spanned 20 pages, and it was packed with strikingly negative commentaries, anecdotes and assertions about President Trump. I read all of it, carefully considering both the 'believability' of the allegations, as well as the motives of the alleger. Having watched hours of testimony today, I believe my initial tweeted thoughts have stood up pretty well. After describing Cohen's words as "extraordinarily negative" and very blunt," I offered this analysis:
The president’s ethics are poor. The portrait/straw purchaser allegation (w/ documentation) is an almost-comical vignette of petty ego & ethical bankruptcy. The Stormy hush payments seem undeniable. I’m dubious that they constitute a crime that justifies impeachment.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) February 27, 2019
The "portrait/straw purchaser" story is recounted on page 12, and Cohen furnishes supporting documentation. On another key point, it's unclear whether the 'hush money' payments to women constitute a prosecutable crime, and I've expressed deep skepticism over the idea that they're impeachable offenses. It should go without saying that none of this speaks highly of anyone involved, but the legal and political implications must be examined separately. More thoughts:
People who love Trump will furiously dismiss virtually all of what Cohen is saying as self-serving sour grapes & pandering to the opposition. Those who hate Trump will eagerly lap up every scathing word and anecdote.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) February 27, 2019
Cohen says he believes Trump wanted him to lie to Congress (Cohen did just that, of course, which is part of the reason he's headed to prison), but there was no order or directive to do so. He also says he cannot provide any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. He says he has his suspicions, but has no proof. He also says that Roger Stone relayed that Russia-linked Wikileaks was going to dump damaging emails about Hillary Clinton prior to the election, but Cohen's telling of that story suggests that Trump was an outside observer, not a participant. My concluding message: "I personally suspect much of this statement is true, though Cohen is unquestionably a deeply embittered and disgruntled former employee with an enormous axe to grind. He’s also been convicted of lying under oath. I take anything he cannot definitively prove with a chunk of salt."
During the hearings, Republicans repeatedly reinforced that Cohen is a self-serving, sleazy liar, but every blow against him also landed as indirect strikes against the man who employed him for so many years. As others noted, there was almost no effort mounted to debunk or poke holes in the specific claims Cohen made about Trump, which is telling in its own right. This might be a problem for Cohen, however:
CNN: Cohen isn't telling the truth when he said under questioning by Jim Jordan that he didn't want a job in the White House.— David Rutz (@DavidRutz) February 27, 2019
Dana Bash: "He very much wanted a job in the White House." pic.twitter.com/DK9VevYqIS
If he's still lying under oath -- this time pandering to a new audience, in furtherance of a new narrative, for his own selfish purposes -- that would blow up his already-tough-to-swallow "coming clean for the country and civility" act. In a battle of unreliable, slimy narrators, it's very difficult to know whom to believe. In short, today's proceedings have been very embarrassing for Trump on a number of fronts, but in terms of new information that could imperil his presidency, it's been something of a high-drama dud. Indeed, in some important ways, there were Trump-helpful elements of Cohen's testimony. As mentioned above, he said he had no evidence to offer on collusion. Cohen also rejected a discredited, explosive report about Trump suborning perjury, and helped discredit a major piece of the Steele dossier (which claimed that Cohen had traveled to Prague in pursuit of Russian collusion-related dealings):
Contra dossier, Cohen testifies he didn’t go to Prague. Contra explosive report (also slapped down by Mueller), Cohen says Trump didn’t direct him to lie under oath.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) February 27, 2019
These assertions are helpful to POTUS, but WH/R’s have been saying we can’t believe anything Cohen says... https://t.co/tUbOUztGwY
But if the White House and Republicans are now arguing that Cohen can't be believed on anything, how can they credibly cherry-pick the pieces of Cohen's story that they want to treat as fact?