Early in Michael Cohen’s testimony Wednesday, the convicted and disbarred former personal attorney for President Donald Trump told Congress that he and other employees of Trump’s private company understood precisely what their jobs were.
“Every day, most of us knew we were coming in, and we were going to lie for him on something,” Cohen said. “And that became the norm.”
Cohen said it also was common for Trump to ask him to threaten someone, whether with a lawsuit, intimidation, or some other means — some 500 times, he guessed, in the 10 years he worked for Trump.
This is troubling on its face, but also because the nation sees it happening now in the White House. Trump is no longer just a businessman, but the threats, the bullying and the lying have not stopped.
Until Wednesday, most of the troublesome legal and conflict-of-interest issues surrounding Trump were found by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Cohen made them part of a congressional spectacle by painting a bleak picture of amoral behavior by Trump and his associates, from Trump Tower to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. He had a chilling warning for Republicans working to shield Trump from investigations. “I did the same thing you’re doing now. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years,” Cohen told GOP members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. “The more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did, blindly, are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.”
Cohen is not a perfect messenger. He’s been convicted of lying repeatedly. He’s an unsavory character. But Trump employed him for 10 years because he needed someone like Cohen to do the things he needed done. There’s little upside for Cohen — who will go to prison for 3 years, in part for campaign fraud connected to Trump — to continue to lie under oath.
The oversight committee’s new Democratic chairman, Elijah Cummings, started the hearing by declaring the panel would no longer protect Trump at all costs. But his GOP colleagues didn’t get the message. Their strategy was mainly to attack Cohen rather than trying to elicit information that might support Trump. It took questions from Democrats to enable Cohen to dispel some of the more salacious rumors about the president. He also suggested Trump and his family should be worried about federal prosecutors in New York who are investigating unspecified crimes involving his business practices. Cohen’s mentions of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s longtime accountant who has immunity from prosecution, left the TV audience with a cliffhanger.
Cohen only briefly touched on the Mueller probe when he said Trump knew in advance about the release of hacked emails damaging to Hillary Clinton. He also defended Trump at times, and choked up when talking about being asked by the president to lie to Melania Trump. Perhaps most memorable was his flat description of the daily unseemly conduct of Trump and his circle, like the mechanics of paying people to keep quiet about alleged Trump affairs.
Cummings called the hearing a search for the truth. It’s vital that Americans hear publicly from as many of those involved as possible to better understand this complex story.
With the fate of the president of the United States on the line, Michael Cohen cannot be the last or only word. — The editorial board