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Monday, December 09, 2019

There were no big surprises from Michael Cohen’s recent testimony. Speaking under oath to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, the former fixer to President Donald J. Trump called his longtime boss a “racist,” a “con man” and a “cheat.” But we already knew that, didn’t we?

Indeed, Cohen revealed little that had not been previously reported or even observed. The president’s long-standing practice of stiffing contractors who built his casinos and apartment buildings was the stuff of extensive news media reports before he was elected. And the last year has seen groundbreaking (and disturbing) reports of Trump’s attempts to get projects underway in Russia, which may explain his distressing habit of cozying up to strongman Vladimir Putin. Cohen revealed that Trump may also have committed insurance fraud, but given the president’s extensive record of lying and cheating, that’s hardly a surprise. News reports have already examined his family’s history of cheating on their taxes.

If anything surprised me, it was the depths to which so many Republicans were willing to sink in their efforts to defend a man who is obviously a liar, a cheat and a con man. In his opening statement, Cohen said, “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.” How many Republicans will say the same thing in the coming years?

There is nothing new about partisanship, of course. The nation was built on it and has survived seasons of intense discord, acrimonious disputes and, of course, a civil war. But for those of us who remember the Watergate era, the behavior of the current crop of Republicans is not only disappointing but also baffling. They are defending a president who may never go to prison but who, nevertheless, has brought a level of corruption to the White House that may be unprecedented.

Here’s just one example: The hush money payments to alleged mistresses, including the porn star known as Stormy Daniels, are well-known. But Cohen testified that Trump discussed reimbursing him for making those payments in the Oval Office. To buttress his testimony, Cohen provided a copy of a check Trump wrote from his personal account and signed after he was president.

But that mattered little to Republicans on the committee. The ranking Republican, Jim Jordan of Ohio, tried to derail the hearing with procedural complaints at the start. Failing that, he denounced the proceedings as a conspiracy orchestrated by the Clintons.

That wasn’t the worst of it. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), an attorney, attempted to intimidate Cohen the day before his testimony by tweeting innuendo about his personal life: “Hey @MichaelCohen212 — Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.”

According to published reports, the Florida Bar Association, which grants licenses to lawyers in that state, has opened an investigation into the matter; Gaetz (who is not a member of the House Oversight Committee) later deleted the tweet and apologized for it, but his intentions were clear. He wanted to shut Cohen up.

But the hearing featuring the president’s former lawyer is only the beginning. Some Democrats have already called for impeachment proceedings, and Cohen’s testimony has added jet fuel to their campaign. The next two years are likely to be a continuing series of hearings that focus on the sleazy underpinnings of Trump’s business, on his suspicious ties to Russia and on his ongoing efforts to use the White House to enrich himself and his family. (If Trump saw the presidency as a marketing opportunity, he probably didn’t foresee the sort of image he’d end up with.)

While Trump could escape a criminal conviction, his reputation will forever be sullied. He will be seen as the grifter that he is. And now that the Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump Inc., it will be as tarnished as he is.

IMAGE: Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen.


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