A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by Liz Marlantes.

Cohen calls Trump a ‘con man’ – but seems unlikely to change many minds

Why We Wrote This

In dramatic and emotional testimony – slammed by Republicans as a farce – the president’s former lawyer offered new details about Trump’s business dealings and character.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, listens as he finishes a day of testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 27, 2019.

So many things about Donald Trump’s presidency have been unprecedented, atypical, norm-busting – it sometimes feels like we’ve run out of adjectives to describe it.

Yet watching the president’s former “fixer” Michael Cohen testify before Congress today sent many of us reaching for the thesaurus again.

In a surreal piece of political drama (still ongoing, as of this writing), Mr. Cohen produced checks that he said the president gave him as reimbursement for hush money payments he’d funneled to women alleging extramarital affairs. He testified that he heard Roger Stone tell Mr. Trump via speakerphone that he’d spoken directly with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about the coming release of stolen Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign.

Cohen also called Trump a racist – relating an anecdote about driving through a poor Chicago neighborhood and hearing Trump comment, “only black people could live that way.”

He said Trump routinely inflated his assets. He called Trump a “con man” and a “cheat.”

Of course, as Cohen himself acknowledged, he has real credibility issues. He’s been disbarred and will soon go to jail for lying to Congress, among other crimes.

“How on earth is this witness credible?” asked GOP Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee. “He will say whatever he wants to accomplish his own personal goals. He’s a fake witness, and his presence here is a travesty.”

Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar (R) – who drew national attention during the 2018 campaign after six of his siblings endorsed his Democratic opponent – reminded Cohen of “the old adage that our moms taught us: ‘Liar Liar Pants on Fire’ ” (that same line was also displayed on a giant poster featuring Cohen’s face).

Several Republicans asked Cohen if he was actively seeking a movie or book deal, and he admitted to discussions with producers and publishers.

All of which is to say, while the proceedings may have been high drama, they also appeared unlikely to change anyone’s mind on either side of the aisle.

One of the most memorable moments came in the form of a warning from Cohen to Republicans. Cohen noted at one point that he found it “interesting” that the GOP members were not asking him any questions about the president, but focusing only on attacking his credibility.

“I did the same thing that you’re doing now, for 10 years,” he said. “I protected Mr. Trump.” 

Let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

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