Before heading to Vietnam for his summit with Kim Jong Un, President Trump was fretting because his former lawyer’s testimony would happen the same day in Washington and he’d have to share his positive summit coverage with the negative hearing coverage. Today, he should be happy because his summit was not a success. Which means his failure didn’t get as much play as if it were the only news of the day.
But he can proudly point to both events as being all about him, as he likes it.
The hearing with his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, while reinforcing some things anti-Trumpers believe and disclosing very little new information, wasn’t as revealing as anticipated. The summit, something Trump has built up as one of his crowning achievements was a failure.
Cohen was quite credible on most topics and he reinforced confidence in his testimony when he said a tape of Trump allegedly hitting his wife in an elevator didn’t exist, to his knowledge or investigation. Also, he said he saw no evidence of Trump colluding with Russia over his election. (Naturally, while Trump said Cohen is a liar he cherry-picked that fact out as proof there was no collusion.)
The hearing was a typical Hill hearing: lots of grandstanding by both sides of the aisle who played to the cameras without a real effort to elicit useful information from Cohen. Though it did get more than its share of “wow” statements.
As pointed out in a New York Times column this morning by Caroline Frederickson, president of the American Constitution Society, the only questioner who really did her job was, surprisingly, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York who asked questions as would a prosecutor in a trial to get necessary information that can be further investigated.
The Republican strategy was for everyone to attack Cohen’s credibility and it did not work. He admitted up front as he has in court that he lied to Congress and committed other crimes. And, as the Republicans noted time after time, Cohen is going to prison in May for his crimes. Then Cong. Mark Meadows (R-NC) brought out his show and tell -- a black woman who worked for Trump thus, he claimed, proving Trump is not a racist -- well, do I need to say more? A stupid idea based on an ignorant theory and using a black woman as a prop to try to make his point. Only Trump’s basest base might possibly buy that stunt.
Cohen held up well under the constant attacks, though he showed moments of being on the verge of displaying his well-known anger (real or not). When talking about letting his wife and children down, I thought he’d crack. But he didn’t. Not until committee Chairman Elijah Cummings closed out the hearing with an impassioned plea to get the countr8y back to “normal” and civility. Then Cohen’s eyes welled up and it earned Cummings a rare hearing standing ovation.
On the other side of the world, Trump and Kim ended their summit early when they couldn’t reach agreement on eliminating North Korea’s nuclear capability. On top of that, because they didn’t like questions asked at an earlier event, the White House disinvited four print reporters from the next event. Typically when American presidents are overseas, especially when meeting with dictators, they go out of their way to showcase that our press is free, even if they don’t like the coverage at times. This time, not so much. One more stab in the back of the American press by the American president in front of a murderous dictator that Trump has admitted he is “in love” with.
Bottom line, nothing accomplished at the summit and no movement of the ball at the Cohen hearing. Whoever disliked Trump before the hearing heard further evidence of his bad behavior and, possibly, crimes; and whoever liked Trump just chalked it up to another liar trying to reduce his prison term (Fact Check: nothing Cohen said in the hearing will reduce his sentence. It’s only when a cooperating witness gives investigators information that leads to discovering crimes that a sentence reduction may be considered.)
At the summit, Trump once again demonstrated he does not have the fantastic negotiating skills he claimed. The only winner at the summit was Kim – who wins just sitting next to an American president and giving him credibility.
At the Cohen hearing one thing that struck me as ominous is it that Cohen worries that if the 2020 election is not a clear victory for whoever opposes Trump, Trump will not give up power easily – another fundamental of our democracy. That is a very scary prediction.
There also was nothing that was clear evidence that Trump should be impeached though the Left is likely to push harder for impeachment now. Cohen may have offered up allegations that could result in impeachment but lots of corroboration would be necessary. And now focus turns not only to the Mueller investigation but the investigation going on in the Southern District of New York. Those folks have information beyond Cohen’s testimony that either backs it up, or doesn’t.
The other thing Cohen said that explains a lot is that he confirmed Trump never expected to win the election. He looked at it as one big marketing opportunity to make money, thus the push to build Trump Tower in Moscow. Thus all the visits to Trump owned properties. Thus Trump, when he did win, not giving up his companies.
Despite a summit staged by Trump to be a foreign policy success, but failed; and despite a Congressional hearing that was entertaining but provided no smoking gun – nothing changed at the end of the day. Except we still have a president who didn’t think he’d win running a country as if it was his personal business and being surrounded, in his administration and the Congress, by a bunch of men and women who do everything they can to enable him.