Week 93: Cohen Reveals Russia Scandal Gems Amid the Mudslinging – POLITICO

Jack Shafer is Politico’s senior media writer.

Who do you want to believe? President Donald Trump, who has told more than 8,000 lies since becoming president, or his ex-attorney, the recently disbarred Michael Cohen, who has confessed to lying to Congress and is prison-bound for those fibs, as well as other charges, who now calls his former boss a “conman”? If you sided with the newly penitent former legal hitman, then you came out on the other side of seven ill-tempered hours of testimony with a modest increase in your stockpile of Russia evidence. A jamboree of “silliness,” to borrow Cohen’s word, but worth it.

Cohen had three or four advantages going into his liars’ contest with Trump as the House Oversight Committee swore him in to testify on Wednesday. First, Cohen has owned up to his lies, which is something Trump has never done. Second, he had the audacity to return to the forum where he told the original incriminating falsehoods—Congress—knowing his every statement would be assayed and scrutinized for untruth and additional prosecution. Third, he brought documents to support his assertions that his former boss had engaged in possible campaign finance violations by paying off paramour Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels), possible tax evasion, possible bank fraud, possible insurance fraud, and possible self-dealing through misuse of his foundation’s funds. Finally, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), who presided over the hearings, lent additional veracity to the testimony, noting that he had vowed to Cohen that he would go Biblical on him at the hint of any new lies.

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“These were my exact words, ‘I will nail you to the cross,’” if you lie again, Cummings said.

The advantage went to the convicted liar over the unindicted liar, as Cohen supplied testimony that added new clarity to an array of previous accusations aimed at the president.

“A lot of people have asked me about whether Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of time. The answer is yes,” Cohen said.

Cohen described overhearing a July 2016 speakerphone discussion between Trump and self-described political dirty trickster Roger Stone in which Stone said he had just gotten off the phone with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange. According to Cohen, Stone said that Assange promised a massive dump of emails would arrive in a couple of days conveying damage to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign—which they did. Stone loosened his new gag order just enough to deny the speakerphone account and WikiLeaks stated that Stone and Assange had never had a phone call. Somebody’s lying here, but who?

Cohen also conveyed his belief that Trump knew in advance of the famous June 2016 Trump Tower encounter in which a bevy of Russians trundled into Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort on the pretext that they had “dirt” on Clinton. Cohen said he witnessed Junior entering Trump senior’s office, leaning over to tell his father, “The meeting is all set,” several days before the Russian visit. Cohen said he had no evidence that Trump or his campaign had colluded with Russia, “But I have my suspicions.” The president said from the Hanoi summit that he was “a little impressed” that Cohen, while lying about everything, nevertheless thought there was no conclusion. He conveniently ignored the part about his former lawyer’s lingering doubts.

Cohen also earned Junior and Ivanka Trump invitations from Cummings to testify after Cohen testified both had been briefed about 10 times on the Trump Tower Moscow project. In September 2017, Russia scandal mavens will recall, Junior told the Senate Judiciary Committee he was only “peripherally aware” of Moscow project. Ivanka Trump said in a recent interview that she knew “literally almost nothing” about the Moscow deal.

Cohen’s testimony added additional pixels to the scandal picture and provided a potential “roadmap“ for future sleuthing by Congress. “All you have to do is follow the transcript,” Cummings told reporters. “If there were names that were mentioned, or records that were mentioned during the hearing, we want to take a look at all of that.” Junior and Ivanka, as well as Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, whose name came up 30 times in testimony, are now imagining the day when they too will endure the committee’s alternating comfort and condemnation. Meanwhile, the chair of the Ways and Means Committee has now instructed his attorneys to request several years of Trump’s tax returns. The House Intelligence Committee interviewed Cohen for seven hours in closed-door hearings Thursday, and he will be back for more next week. Former Trump associate Felix Sater, also mentioned in this week’s hearings, will testify before the intelligence committee on March 14. That one will be in public, which is sort of like offering an open bar at the prom – it just ends up with a lot of nicely dressed people talking loudly and behaving badly.

Most of the Republicans on the House Oversight Committee burned their time with filibusters that sought to impeach Cohen’s credibility, but they failed to make the convicted liar sound like anything but an honest witness. Meanwhile, some Democrats, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., wanted to break news. Twice Krishnamoorthi swung his pick-ax in hopes of busting loose a nugget, asking Cohen about his last communications with Trump and whether Trump had engaged in other criminal wrongdoing. Cohen answered “Yes” to that second question before slipping the knot. He said he had been asked by Southern District of New York prosecutors—the lawyers who squeezed him for his guilty pleas—“not to discuss and not to talk about these issues.”

Intimations that the SDNY is still on the case traps the president on three sides—congressional hearings, federal prosecutors and the special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s office (remember him?!). As these three forces work their way down the evidentiary chain, applying pressure on Trump’s family members and sifting through his financial records, how will the liar-in-chief react? If it’s true that Trump has never met a crisis he couldn’t lie his way past, prepare yourself for a festival of fudging, stonewalling and prevarication that will pale his previous outbursts.

And that ain’t no lie.

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Send creative lies to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts have been subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee and my Twitter feed by the House Oversight Committee. My RSS feed has this word for the Southern District of New York: “Top of the world, Ma!”

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