The words of a criminal liar ought not be treated as gospel. Still, Michael Cohen’s three days of testimony were nevertheless revealing. Revealing not in the sense of showing us anything new but in bolstering two beliefs we already held.
First, Cohen’s inside stories from the Trump Organization supported the impression we’ve long had of Donald Trump’s character.
Second, Cohen’s testimony poked holes in the Democrats’ favorite charges of criminal or impeachable acts by Trump.
Democrats and liberal commentators have obsessively leveled two charges against Trump that they say justify impeachment: “collusion” with Russia and obstruction of justice. Cohen weakened the Democrats’ case for both.
“Stunning Revelations Raise Alarm for the Russia Probe” blared the CNN headline in January. This was following on BuzzFeed’s bombshell report that “President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.”
Cohen defused that bombshell in his testimony before the House Oversight Committee. “Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress,” Cohen said. It was typical of the entire Mueller and Russia investigation: Leaks to liberal outlets tell a salacious story and then testimony under oath undermines it.
Yet, Cohen’s testimony on this matter didn’t exactly make Trump look good.
“In conversations we had during the campaign,” Cohen said, “at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie.”
This account jibes with what we know about Trump and the ease with which the president says obviously false things. But it’s also not obstruction of justice.
On the collusion front, Cohen’s testimony was similarly exculpating.
The Russia investigation has roots in a salacious Democrat-funded opposition research memo by operative Christopher Steele. Although the memo was discredited long ago, the liberal media has held onto it as an old man holds onto a long-dead dream. That’s why journalist Twitter was begging congressmen on Wednesday to ask Michael Cohen if he’s ever been to Prague — the alleged Cohen-to-Prague trip is a tent pole in Steele’s collusion narrative.
Cohen testified he’s never been to Prague. So much for the memo.
Cohen’s testimony also went right at the heart of the collusion charge. Cohen says Trump knew about plans to publish Russia-hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s orbit. That could hint at some kind of collusion with Russia. But what exactly was Trump’s involvement?
Cohen testified that Roger Stone told Trump, “Mr. Trump, I just want to let you know I just got off the phone with Julian Assange, and in a couple days, there’s going to be a massive dump of emails that is going to severely hurt the Clinton campaign.”
In other words, Trump was vaguely informed about emails that had been stolen by someone else. That’s not “collusion” by any definition of which we are aware. The source of the information was not necessarily reliable either, and so it’s hard to argue that Trump had any duty to report to the authorities.
It would be foolish to take Cohen’s testimony as gospel. He is a liar. We hope, however, that the Republicans who made this point throughout the hearing realize that this also reflects poorly on the president. Why did Trump surround himself with the likes of Cohen, Stone, and Paul Manafort? Probably because their lack of scruples made them the “killers” he thought he needed in business and in politics.
Cohen’s testimony about Trump consistently painted a picture of a morally impoverished man. But that was merely adding detail to the picture America had of Trump in November 2016 when it elected him president. The question at hand is whether Trump did anything illegal or impeachable. On that front, Cohen also added nothing new.