By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor
Contentious hearing of former Trump ‘fixer’ raises more questions, suspicions
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill, Feb. 27, in Washing- ton. Photo: AP Photo/Alex Brandon
WASHINGTON—During a riveting day of testimony before the House Oversight Committee, President Donald J. Trump’s longtime personal attorney and fixer said bluntly what many have suspected for years: “I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist, he is a conman, and he is a cheat.”
Michael Cohen worked for Mr. Trump more than 10 years, during which time the president pressured him to lie; to make hush money payments; and to threaten contractors who were owed money by Mr. Trump, and to even threaten his former schools not to release his grades or test scores, he told Congress.
Donald Trump, United States President Photo: MGN Online
“Never in a million years did I imagine, when I accepted a job in 2007 to work for Donald Trump, that he would one day run for President, launch a campaign on a platform of hate and intolerance, and actually win. I regret the day I said ‘yes’ to Mr. Trump. I regret all the help and support I gave him along the way,” Mr. Cohen said during his Feb. 27 testimony.
“I am ashamed of my weakness and misplaced loyalty—of the things I did for Mr. Trump in an effort to protect and promote him. I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience.”
What’s worse is that it could get worse. “After you’ve heard Michael Cohen describe Donald Trump and literally say the stuff you’ve heard about Donald Trump being a racist is nothing compared to what he really is: like he’s worse,” John Nichols, national affairs correspondent for The Nation told this writer. “And that’s essentially what Michael Cohen was saying today.
“I think we really today could go back in the future and say, this is the day where you started to see some major unraveling of the Trump administration. You’ve got to have those next stages. But if you do, I think you’ll trace back to this testimony, and you’ll say: ‘This Michael Cohen, he came up there and he basically laid some things out.’ Remember once upon a time, a long time ago, people didn’t think John Dean was that big a deal or that good a guy. History makes you better,” Mr. Nichols said.
Despite the similarities observers draw between Mr. Dean’s impact on the presidency of Richard Nixon, who resigned after Mr. Dean’s testimony in 1974 rather than face impeachment, and Mr. Cohen’s damage to Mr. Trump, this president is unlikely to resign, and if impeached by the House, very unlikely to be convicted and removed by a two-thirds vote in the Senate.
“But I think the public deserves the truth,” David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief for Mother Jones told this writer. “Yesterday, Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, after he heard testimony with Michael Cohen that was private and about more of the Russia stuff that we’re seeing today came out and said: ‘In all my years as a senator, I’ve never been in a more consequential meeting.’ And basically said, ‘I’m scared by what I heard.’ Well, we need to know, the public needs to know what the heck Warner is talking about.”
“I got to know him very well, working very closely with him for more than 10 years, as his Executive Vice President and Special Counsel and then personal attorney when he became President,” Mr. Cohen testified. “I wound up touting the Trump narrative for over a decade. That was my job. Always stay on message. Always defend. It monopolized my life. Over time, I saw his true character revealed.
“Mr. Trump is an enigma. He is complicated, as am I. He has both good and bad, as do we all. But the bad far outweighs the good, and since taking office, he has become the worst version of himself.
“Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation, only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the ‘greatest infomercial in political history.’
“He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign – for him – was always a marketing opportunity,” Mr. Cohen said.
A protester holds a sign after the hearing of President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen, before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, on Capitol Hill, Feb. 27, in Washington. Photo: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
What was equally revealing about the hearing was the Republican strategy. All 17 GOP committee members simply challenged Mr. Cohen’s credibility rather than defend Mr. Trump on his merits.
“I think what the Republicans are doing is that they are giving their base reasons to shut their ear,” Bill Fletcher, a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, said in an interview. “They know that anyone that’s objective minded, is as we saw in the Watergate hearings, going to be listening and trying to evaluate what’s really happening here. In this case, the aim of the Republicans is to make sure that their base doesn’t lose hope and that their base doesn’t unravel.
“You see, the thing about Trump’s base, which is very much like the case with Hitler’s base and the base of many other, autocrats and demagogues is that they believe it’s like the closing line in the monologue that comedian George Wallace would say: ‘That’s the way I see it, and that’s the way it ought to be.’ And there’s a lot of ways that should be the slogan of the Republican Party because they are not interested in anything factual,” Mr. Fletcher continued.
Republicans are reluctant to condemn Mr. Trump “because of the blind loyalty or their own ambition. So we can just look forward to more of the same blind loyalty to their ambition and political agenda. I like to refer to Trump as a blunt force object that the Republican Party has used in order to advance their agenda. And whether they happen to like him or not; respect him or not; they, they look at him as a useful tool in order to advance their, their objective,” said Mr. Fletcher.
“It’s amazing to me,” said Mr. Corn. “I keep saying and I sound naive, but it still is amazing to me that Republicans put up with us because they just don’t seem to care. They get their tax cuts. They get their conservative Supreme Court justices and federal judges don’t forget them, and they just don’t give a damn that they have a president who’s making a mockery of American values, who’s violating the Constitution. And who is even, as Michael Cohen said today, destroying civility and public discourse and ruining norms of government that have existed for decades.
“So every week we hit rock bottom, I always say yes, then the next week comes along.”
During the hearing, after Mr. Cohen called Mr. Trump a racist in his opening remarks, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), introduced Lynne Patton, a former event planner who worked for the Trump family and is now a top official in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Democrats complained loudly. Ms. Patton is Black and touted as proof Mr. Trump was not racist.
“Having endured the public comments of racism of the sitting president, as a Black person, I can only imagine what’s being said in private,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) said. “To prop up one member of our entire race and say that nullifies it is totally insulting. To look at his administration speaks volumes.”
Rep. Meadows quoted Ms. Patton as saying she would never work for someone who was a racist. Mr. Cohen responded that as the son of a Holocaust survivor, he should not have done so either but he did. “Ask Miss Patton how many people who are Black are executives at the Trump organization,” Mr. Cohen said. “And the answer is zero.”
Mr. Trump has been accused of making insensitive remarks toward Black people in the past. Also none of his top White House staff are Black and only one member of his Cabinet—Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson—is Black.
During his testimony, Mr. Cohen said Mr. Trump has courted the favor of White supremacists and bigots and that, during one drive-through of a poor neighborhood in Chicago, Mr. Trump “commented that only Black people could live that way.” He also said that Mr. Trump once told him that “Black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
“He considers Black people to be stupid,” Dr. Gerald Horne, Moore Professor of History and African Studies at the University of Houston said in an interview. “That this was not necessarily a revelation to those who pay close attention, but however, I think it should remind us that there is an active lobby, an active electorate in this country, which is determined to push the clock back.
“He’s pushing the clock in a counter revolutionary direction towards an era of unrivaled White supremacy, unrivaled messaging and all the rest,” said Dr. Horne. “We need to step up our activism. We need to particularly step up our activism in the international arena.
“We’re going to fall victim to the 63 billion block of voters who saw Mr. Trump and said they would not turn against him even if he killed somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue, and I think we should take that particular comment very seriously. It would not surprise me in the least if Mr. Trump’s base would not crumble and desert him despite this damaging and devastating testimony, despite the fact that if true, he has been painted as a con man and a fraud and a racist to boot, and so if they’re not going to desert him, obviously we need a new approach.”
Bill Fletcher agrees. “I mean, a strategy that is hoping to win over Trump’s base is a strategy that will fail. It is a segment of the population that is an effect dying out, that is resisting every moment that they can. And unfortunately the truth gets in the way of their view. So we shouldn’t worry about trying to convince them. We have to, we have to strengthen our side and we have to win those who are vacillating to understand the ramifications of siding with the likes of Trump.
“I mean every week I say we hit rock bottom and I said that every week. So I mean, I think the amount of, of inappropriate, improper perhaps, illegal activity in this administration continues to go on. It went on for two years unabated because Congress did not step in and start looking at any of this stuff. Now we have a Congress, at least the House that is willing to do something and we’ll see how far they get and how much resistance there is from the Trump administration or other federal agencies when they start asking for information. You know, with Trump, I mean every day, I think people scratch their head and say, how much lower can it go?”
Author David K. Johnston says the corruption goes back decades. “Well, you know, I’ve covered Donald longer than anybody else, more than 30 years,” Mr. Johnston told this writer in an interview. “And my personal and emotional response when I read his 20 page statements to Congress today was, that’s everything I’ve been trying to get people to understand about Donald from day one. He’s a White collar, head of a crime family.”
Ruth Coniff, Editor-at-Large at The Progressive magazine agrees. “It seems like the Trump family is really, it’s like a Mafia basement and (Mr. Cohen) was, you know, he was working for the mobster. Ms. Coniff said in an interview.
What’s worse, Mr. Cohen suggested that President Trump might stage a coup, or manufacture a national emergency to seize power in case he’s not reelected. “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will not be a peaceful transition of power,” Mr. Cohen said.
“You have to remember even after Nazi Germany was defeated after fascist Italy was defeated, there remained the core of Nazis, a core of fascists that could simply not be convinced that the path that had been taken was the incorrect path,” Mr. Fletcher warned.
“One of my takeaways from these riveting hearings today is that we are in the midst of a counter revolution,” said Dr. Horne.
Mr. Trump’s own response was to blame Mr. Cohen and the Congressional hearing for his failure to secure an agreement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a highly anticipated summit in Vietnam. Mr. Trump said on March 4 that the Democrats’ decision to interview his longtime fixer and lawyer, on the same day as his own meeting with Mr. Kim, may have contributed to the North Korea summit ending with no deal.
The two leaders met for the second time in Hanoi to try to negotiate a denuclearization deal as Mr. Cohen was testifying, accusing Mr. Trump of ordering him to make threats for him about 500 times over the last 10 years.
“For the Democrats to interview in open hearings a convicted liar & fraudster, at the same time as the very important Nuclear Summit with North Korea, is perhaps a new low in American politics and may have contributed to the ‘walk’,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter, referring to his decision to walk away from what he previously said was a bad deal with Mr. Kim.