As the House Oversight Committee listens to Michael Cohen’s testimony, I’m getting more and more puzzled.
Trump’s former attorney is about to start a three-year stint in prison for perjury. That, according to the ranking Republican Jim Jordan disqualifies his testimony.
“It’s the first time a convicted perjurer has been brought back to be a star witness in a hearing,” he said. “How can Congress even consider listening to the testimony of a man who has been convicted of, among other things, lying to Congress?”
One might think Mr Jordan can’t follow elementary logic.
First, no liar lies all the time – even the worst of them tell the truth sometimes. I’m sure that Mr Jordan, like George Washington, has never told a lie, but if such probity were an ironclad requirement for witnesses, we’d never have anyone testifying at trials.
Yes, when it’s a witness’s word against a defendant’s, the defence would be derelict in its duty if it didn’t draw attention to the witness’s person.
But Mr Jordan and his fellow Republicans seem to think that Cohen’s understated reputation for veracity makes this an open and shut case for the president’s innocence. It doesn’t, not by itself.
Cases should be decided not by mud slinging, but by hard evidence and credible witness testimony. I’d suggest that the evidence presented so far is rather soft, and some parts of Mr Cohen’s testimony are less credible than others.
Most of what he says proves that the president can’t readily be confused with a choir boy. Crikey. I’m sure this earth-shattering revelation will come as news to the 63 million Americans who voted for Trump.
You mean a big property developer building and operating Atlantic City casinos isn’t always above board? Who coulda thunk.
You mean an aggressive, high-powered billionaire running a travelling brothel called Miss Universe Contest has at some times acted less married than at some others? How out of character.
You mean he paid hush money to a few ladies of easy virtue threatening to blow the whistle on him? Incredible.
You mean he tried to appear wealthier to potential lenders than to the tax service? Unbelievable.
I’d venture a guess that not one of those voters would have changed his ballot even had he known all this in advance. And if the Democrats think that any of this constitutes an impeachable offence, I wonder about their frame of moral reference.
From what one hears, neither, say, John F. Kennedy nor Bill Clinton was exactly a eunuch. Moreover, the first came from a family widely believed to have organised crime links; the second was involved in questionable dealings while still governor of Arkansas.
Do let’s be fair. Either monasticism is expected from all presidents or it’s expected from none.
Incidentally, liar or not, Mr Cohen rings true on this issue. However, on the available evidence, this is a problem strictly for Mrs Trump.
As to the issue of hush money, I don’t quite get it.
On the one hand, Cohen has produced Trump’s personal $35,000 cheque made out to Cohen himself, who allegedly had been asked to pay off Trump’s porn star mistress out of his own accounts to divert suspicion from his client. This, he claims, was an instalment on the agreed sum of $130,000 supposed to make the blackmail go away.
On the other hand, he testified that: “I am giving the Committee today a copy of a $130,000 wire transfer from me to Ms Clifford’s attorney, [which sum] was demanded by Ms Clifford to maintain her silence about the affair with Mr Trump.”
So if the whole lump sum was paid by wire transfer, where does that $35,000 cheque come in? Until this confusion has been clarified, I’ll believe the president who says it was merely a retainer for Cohen’s services.
The whole thing is sleazy, but that’s not the same as illegal. However, Trump would get into hot water if the hush money had come out of his campaign, rather than personal, funds. That would have been illegal but, like all illegal things, it requires proof. So far we haven’t seen any.
What else? Cohen submitted documents showing that Mr Trump inflated his assets when trying to secure a loan from Deutsche Bank and deflated them to pay less tax.
That’s naughty, but the loan in question was secured in 2008, long before Trump’s presidential campaign. However, Deutsche Bank leads us to accusations that, if proved, could get Trump not only impeached but also convicted.
For that venerable institution boasts such heavy investments from the Russian mafia as to have no option but to do its bidding. (I use the term ‘mafia’ loosely, to describe history’s unique confluence of government, secret police and organised crime that’s otherwise known as the Russian state).
As widely suspected, in 2008, when Trump found himself bankrupt, the Russians transferred vast amounts into his coffers, using Deutsche Bank as the conduit. The books I’ve read on the subject, Russian Roulette by Isikoff and Corn and House of Trump, House of Putin by Craig Unger, claim this suspicion is amply documented.
One way or the other, Trump’s business dealings with Russian gangsters, such as Aras Agalarov, are indeed known through numerous documents complete with photographs. That’s where impeachable offences, if any, can be found.
I for one don’t believe it’s possible to lie with such dogs without catching fleas, but, I’m sad to admit, my belief doesn’t add up to proof.
Cohen claims that Trump was pursuing his megalomaniac project of building Europe’s tallest tower in Moscow well into his presidential campaign and possibly presidency. If proved, this claim would hurt the president for obvious reasons, with conflict of interests being the mildest possible charge.
Cohen also insists that Trump knew in advance, and was enthusiastic, about the imminent release of Hilary Clinton’s emails by Stone and Assange.
Now show me a politician who’d act differently on finding out that his rival’s campaign is about to be damaged, and I’ll show you someone who wouldn’t be elected proverbial dog catcher.
Judging such foreknowledge merely on moral grounds, I see nothing, or almost nothing, wrong with it.
However, if Trump had colluded with the Russians to procure and release such information, that would be not just wrong but criminal. Watergate would look like an innocent caper by comparison.
Cohen has offered no corroborative proof because the Committee told him to steer clear of the subject, at least within the media’s earshot. Then it’s also possible that no such proof exists.
Another allegation is that Trump is lying when he denies knowing about the meeting held by his son, son-in-law and another jailbird, Manafort, with a Putin emissary who had promised some dirt on Hilary.
Now I find it hard to believe that Trump’s closest confidants could have taken such a meeting without telling the boss first. However, such cases shouldn’t be decided on the balance of probability.
The reason the Committee chose not to explore the Russian theme with Cohen is that Special Counsel Mueller is due to submit his report in a few days. If it contains hard proof of Trump’s illegal links with Putin, that would be sufficient grounds for a charge of treason.
If not, Trump’s detractors should get off his back and let him get on with the job he was elected to do. For the dirt dished out by Cohen has so far soiled Trump only slightly.
Much of it is simply name-calling. “I know what Mr Trump is,” says Cohen. “He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.”
The last two epithets could have been replaced with one: international property developer. Few of Mr Trump’s colleagues couldn’t be tarred with the same brush.
The charge of racism is based on Trump supposedly having said: “Name one country run by a black man that isn’t a shithole”. The description is robust, but then the conversation, if it indeed happened, was private.
Cohen hasn’t divulged if he took the challenge on and actually named one such country that’s a lovely place to live. Instead he feigns indignation over the fact that Obama was president at the time. Surely he doesn’t expect anyone to believe the risible suggestion that Trump regarded the US as one such country?
As to Cohen’s insane suggestion that, if Trump loses in 2020, he may not allow “a peaceful transition of power”, it’s beneath a comment. How would he do that, out of interest? Declare the US Constitution null and void? Have Washington occupied by 82nd Airborne?
There’s little wheat in Cohen’s testimony, and much chaff. Perhaps Mueller’s report will have a higher content of the cereal. Let’s wait and see – something we’ve been saying for two years.