Before Michael Cohen’s testimony to Congress Wednesday, pundits were split over whether the hearing would be a bonanza for those looking for damaging information about President Donald Trump or a total bust. It turned out to be a blockbuster performance.
Despite his agreements with prosecutors to hold back on ongoing investigations, including some that he said directly involve the president, Cohen’s testimony implicated Trump in at least five felonies:
- Conspiracy to defraud the US (knowledge of Stone/Wikileaks email dump)
“In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone,” Cohen said. “Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”
It’s not clear if Stone, WikiLeaks, or Assange will be charged with a conspiracy to defraud the United States, though some prosecutors say that the elements of the case point to that eventuality. However, Cohen’s testimony implies that, if this charge does materialize, Trump himself may be a party to the conspiracy.
- Lying to FBI/Special Counsel (false answers on Stone/Wikileaks and Don jr/Trump Tower)
Cohen’s testimony above says directly that Trump spoke Stone about WikiLeaks, even though CNN has reported that he told the opposite to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in his written testimony. Cohen also said that, while he is not positive, it is overwhelmingly likely that Donald Trump Jr. told his father about the meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. CNN has also reported that Trump claimed the opposite to the special counsel. That’s a crime.
- Suborning perjury (approving Cohen’s false testimony to Congress)
Cohen said his false testimony to Congress wasn’t explicitlydirected by the president but that Trump had made it clear to him through his public lies that he did not want the truth to be known. Not exactly rock solid, but perhaps most damning was when Cohen said that his false statement was made in cooperation with the president’s lawyer Jay Sekulow. If Sekulow was acting on Trump’s orders to get Cohen to lie, that could implicate the Trump in the crime.
Long story short, that BuzzFeed article was essentially true.
- Campaign finance (hush money payment)
This was the crime for which Cohen is already on the record implicating the president. When he confessed to arranging two hush money payments as part of a criminal campaign finance scheme during the 2016 campaign, he said he carried out the plot at Trump’s direction. Now, he has provided Congress with a check, signed by Trump (also one signed by Trump Jr. implicating him and Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg as well) that shows the president’s repayment for this scheme while serving in office.
One Republican tried to poke holes in Cohen’s story, noting that the check could have been for legal services or some legitimate payment; Cohen though, noted that Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, has already confirmed that the president paid Cohen back for the hush money payment.
Given that Cohen has plead guilty and is going to jail (partially) for this crime, in which Trump is an unnamed co-conspirator, and the documentation provided, this seems (to my very limited expertise anyway) to be the most rock-solid of the charges levied against Lord Dampnut.
- Bank, wire and tax fraud
Cohen testified that Trump inflated his assets to win bank loans and deflated them to reduce his tax burden, precisely the kind of scheme for which Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is now facing lengthy prison time. Cohen added that he knew of other offenses that federal prosecutors are still investigating.
The Republican strategy in the hearing was pretty clear. They planned to discredit the testimony from Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer by painting Cohen as a liar, a criminal, and a cheat. Never mind the fact that Cohen was Donald Trump’s liar, criminal, and cheat for a decade.
No one denies that Michael Cohen is all those things, especially Cohen himself. In fact, it’s obvious that Cohen’s willingness to lie and cheat was the main reason that Trump employed him in the first place. For some reason though, Republicans kept harping on Cohen’s history of misbehavior as if it exonerated Trump.
It’s difficult to understand their strategy, assuming there was one. If their goal was to convince the American public that Trump is not a criminal, repeatedly reminding them that his right-hand man for a decade is now on his way to prison for the numerous crimes he committed on Trump’s behalf seems counter-productive. Perhaps they think Americans are too stupid to connect those adjacent dots.
The question at the end of the day is: Will any of this actually matter? Will Republican Red-Hats in Congress make the calculation that they don’t want to go down with the Trump ship? Or, if you want to get unrealistically optimistic, actually put their country over loyalty to their party?
I doubt it, but I’ve been wrong before.