WASHINGTON — House Republicans defended President Donald Trump on Wednesday by painting his former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen as a dishonest felon who’s only interested in a post-prison book deal. One of their methods: putting up a sign with Cohen’s face on it that read “LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE!”
Cohen, whom Trump employed for over a decade, testified before the House oversight committee on Wednesday about Trump’s dealings with Russia and his payments to women who said they had affairs with the now-president. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison in December after pleading guilty in two separate cases, one brought by the special counsel office led by Robert Mueller and another brought by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.
Cohen, who was named deputy finance chair for the Republican National Committee in April 2017 and served in that capacity until last June, is set to report to prison this May.
With the exception of Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Republicans on the House oversight committee used their time not to get at the substance of the allegations against Trump, but rather to attack Cohen’s character and brand everything he said as a lie. They continuously found new ways to bring up his crimes, questioned his choice of counsel and suggested he was mad at Trump because he didn’t get a job at the White House.
But their attacks undermined their own argument by raising a question they failed to address: If Cohen is a shady, lying criminal, why did Trump keep him on the payroll for so long? And why did the RNC ― which labeled Cohen a “convicted felon who has consistently engaged in deceptive and misleading criminal behavior” in a tweet on Wednesday ― give him such an important role?
Republicans also touted Cohen’s plea deal with the Southern District of New York, the one that says that “Individual-1” ― Trump ― was the one who directed and coordinated with Cohen to make illegal campaign payments.
The same Republicans who engaged in a long campaign to undermine trust in the law enforcement organizations investigating the president were, on Wednesday, touting the findings of those very investigations.
They had no problem with Michael Cohen when he’s lying; they don’t like him when he’s a truth-teller. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.)
Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) led the charge against Cohen. Both members have been among Trump’s biggest defenders on Capitol Hill in relation to the Russia investigation and make regular appearances in support of Trump on his favorite cable news station, Fox News.
“This is the Michael Cohen hearing presented by Lanny Davis,” said Jordan, referring to the Clinton associate who has been assisting Cohen. Meadows went on the attack against Cohen and said he’s referred him for investigation in relation to foreign contacts the lawmaker incorrectly suggested Cohen was required to disclose.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who spoke as the “LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE!” poster was on display, told Cohen that “no one should ever listen to you and give you credibility.”
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) asked Trump’s former personal attorney when he decided during his life to start telling the truth. Cohen was convicted in November of lying to Congress about his involvement in a Trump Tower Moscow deal during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“There are several factors: Helsinki, Charlottesville, watching the daily destruction of our civility to one another, putting up with silly things like this,” Cohen responded, referring to the anti-Cohen posters that GOP committee members had erected ahead of Wednesday’s heated hearing.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) engaged in one of the more puzzling lines of questioning on Wednesday. The Florida congressman contended that “nothing” Cohen produced to the committee “proved” that Trump had personally directed Cohen to make payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about her alleged affair with Trump, even though Cohen testified he did so verbally. Steube also neglected to mention the check Cohen submitted to Congress ― a check bearing Trump’s signature ― reimbursing Cohen for the payment.
Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) lasered in on a potential smoking gun during the hearing: the location of “boxes of evidence” FBI investigators seized from Cohen during their probe of his business dealings and relationship with Trump. Over and over again, Higgins questioned Cohen about the boxes, even though Cohen said they were seized by investigators, reviewed, and then returned to him.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who is not a member of the committee, watched much of the hearing from the sidelines. Gaetz is now under investigation after appearing to threaten Cohen on Twitter ahead of his testimony.
Democrats acknowledged Cohen’s crimes but said they believed that Cohen was telling the truth now because he provided evidence to back up some of his assertions and because additional lies to Congress could mean additional criminal exposure.
Republicans are “not upset that he lied to Congress on behalf of the president, they’re upset that he stopped lying to Congress on behalf of the president,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told HuffPost. “They had no problem with Michael Cohen when he’s lying; they don’t like him when he’s a truth-teller.”
Cohen, said Raskin, was “like a person who has exited a religious cult or someone who just got out of the mob.”
Kayleigh McEnany, the Trump campaign’s national press secretary, called Cohen “a felon, a disbarred lawyer, and a convicted perjurer.” While Trump has called Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt,” McEnany cited Mueller’s case as well as the case out of the Southern District of New York as evidence Cohen couldn’t be trusted.
“This is the same Michael Cohen who has admitted that he lied to Congress previously,” she said. “Why did they even bother to swear him in this time?”
Cohen testified that “lying for Mr. Trump was normalized,” and that “everybody’s job at the Trump Organization is to protect Mr. Trump.”
“It’s that sort of behavior that I’m responsible for,” he said. “I’m responsible for your silliness because I did the same thing that you’re doing now for 10 years. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years.”
Cohen then issued a warning: “The more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did blindly are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.”