I listened to a few political podcasts this morning and was shocked by some of the cynical takeaways from yesterday’s Cohen hearing, so I decided to write down some thoughts. This may be a little rough, as I haven’t had much time to extrapolate everything, and may be improvising some of my points on the fly, so bear with me.
One thing of note was Cohen’s insistence that Trump was involved with every major decision regarding his business and campaign, using his children and fixers to distance himself from direct criminal engagement. He basically uses his children as decoys so that he can escape direct scrutiny. Cohen also acted as his lawyerly muscle in this way, threatening people to keep schtum on Trump’s order around 500 times.
This characterization of Trump is valuable insofar as we already know that several people close to Trump, including Cohen himself and Paul Manafort, have been convicted of serious crimes. If Trump always had a hand in the business dealings of his subordinates, it stands to reason that any criminal activity they committed while working in his company’s name was done at his behest. Though Trump will likely deny any involvement- it’s what he’s best at- it will be harder to paint him as an oblivious innocent when he get a deeper picture of how exactly he conducts his business. This will likely be corroborated by how he is running his White House, with his children acting as his subordinates and stealing focus from him when it comes to questionable dealings.
The Democrats failed to hit home on the main takeaway, that Trump was a criminal before he entered office and continued his criminal activity while in office. The Democrats need to do a better job of making a show of the parts of the testimony that actually are relevant. If any Democrats believe in a path to impeachment via the Mueller investigation, they need to start laying the groundwork now. AOC made an effort, but it would have been better if she’d had more allies. A few lines of questioning from the Democrats- most notably “What is the truth that Trump fears most?”- fell flat and felt like someone asking you to do their homework for them. If you’re at the hearing, you’re supposed to have five minutes worth of substantive questions regarding the testimony, not just blindly swing in the dark for a home run.
Luckily for the Democrats, the Republicans looked lost out there. Jim Jordan’s histrionics were especially undermined by the insistence of so many Republicans that there was book deal behind all of this. Ever notice how Republicans are die-hard anti-taxation capitalists who believe a man’s money is his life until it comes to this book deal? The entire Republican brand seems to be built around the idea that making money is a sign of ingenuity, but not so if you turn on the President. Cohen made mincemeat of a few of them, which was shocking considering how morally bankrupt he is in general. The Democrats had an unlikely friend in this criminal who was calling out the GOP fraudsters on a game he knows all too well.
One of the podcasts I listened to suggested that Cohen’s statement that he ‘didn’t know of any collusion but had his suspicions’ somehow exonerated Trump. This blew my mind. If anything, we should be dissecting every word of Cohen’s testimony very carefully. If we can believe Cohen’s claims, they were working on the testimony late into the night, that being Cohen’s explanation for why it was delivered so late. (This became an immediate point of contention with the GOP, who demanded a delay to read everything over, as if they hadn’t just plowed on through with the Kavanaugh hearings last year.) Later in the hearing, Cohen said something to the effect of ‘I chose my wording very carefully’. Based on his demeanor and repetitious phrasing and work as a lawyer, it’s safe to say every aspect of his testimony was prepared carefully, and that’s why he was able to sail so smoothly through so many emotional lines of questioning from the GOP.
This suggests to me that Cohen might still be lying, but with a few caveats: 1) He is likely withholding information that would embarrass Trump in terms of sexual dealings further, because this seemed to be one of Cohen’s main duties as a fixer, yet he never brought up anything ‘grab her by the pussy’-ish. He painted a picture of Trump as a loving man who would never lay a hand on Melania. This doesn’t ring true, and his silence with regard to anything additionally salacious there suggests to me that the dirt he threw on Trump was a hand-picked selection, not the whole pile of misdeeds. Cohen’s testimony was written like a high-school essay. He set his thesis that Trump was a conman, a cheat and a racist, and he set out to prove those facts, nothing more.
Granted some of what he cannot say may be tied to ongoing investigations, so that could explain away some of it. But it seemed strange that his extramarital dealings and behavior weren’t touched on a little, given that Cohen was directly involved in the whole Stormy situation. Cohen no doubt knew plenty of salacious stories about Trump, and maybe out of fear for causing further marital stress to Trump (?) he shied away from that line of attack. This is after all a betrayal between old friends, not an attack from a long-time enemy. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cohen set some ‘do not cross’ lines knowing that whatever he saw Trump do in private wouldn’t be corroborated by any evidence anyway, so he might as well let him off the hook.
The question is, why was racism one of Cohen’s angles when he had only hearsay to back it up? I think racism stood in place of the obvious sexual misconduct that Cohen did not want to discuss. He used racism as a distraction- and distracting it did become- as a way of keeping questioning from touching sexual misconduct, likely a can of worms, considering Cohen threatened people for Trump around 500 times. There is likely a fair amount of sexual misconduct to be caught and killed in 500 threats worth of fixing.
There’s nothing but guesswork to support this theory, but I’m betting Cohen wanted to keep wives and extramarital affairs off the table, as he is in the process of trying to keep his own marriage afloat. Knowing Trump, if he started bringing up strippers and porn stars, Trump would likely have a few stories about Cohen to share (or concoct) as well.
There were a lot of awkward swings and misses from Republicans during the hearing but even one of the worst moments- using a black woman as a prop to prove Trump isn’t racist- became a debacle after the Democrats- as always- took the bait and wasted questioning time getting in an argument with an old white man about whether or not being called racist is the true racism. This resulted in a lady having to back down and look meek while the needs of the old white man were tended to. Once the old white man had his pacifier things could resume, but what an embarrassing display from both sides in that instant. Of course the GOP was using a racist trick- “I have a black friend,” but instead of mocking their senility, the Dems turned it into a battle of emotions, and you are never going to win a battle of emotions with these Trump loving GOP weirdos, because they know the louder and dumber they act, the more Trump will get a kick out of it. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Cohen’s interest in collusion seemed to be genuine, as if he was out of the loop on the whole thing but had inklings it might be real. This is where we see the trail of bread crumbs to the rest of the investigation. You have to think that Mueller wants us to see or hear key bits of testimony at key times, and this seems to be setting the stage for him to put on a show later. But even if we don’t get any additional information from anyone, which is highly unlikely, we still have proof that the President is a criminal.