President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen on Thursday completes three days of grueling congressional hearings. He clearly did his former boss no favors during a contentious public hearing Wednesday that touched on hush money, WikiLeaks data dumps and allegations about lies and Russia.
But how damaging was Cohen’s testimony to the president and where does it go from here? Here are some key points to consider:
Nothing quiet about ‘hush money’
Cohen provided extensive details of Trump’s involvement that contradict the president’s denials that he didn’t know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, who said she had an affair with Trump years ago.
Cohen said Trump took part in discussions of payments, which came toward the end of the 2016 presidential campaign. During questioning from D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Cohen said the president was concerned about how the revelation could impact his campaign and ability to get elected.
Some legal experts say the newest information could link the president to a possible violation of campaign finance laws, though there would be a lot of hurdles facing prosecutors, including proving Trump’s intent.
It was just a brief moment during Wednesday’s hearing, but Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., asked if Cohen knew about any other “illegal act” involving Trump that lawmakers hadn’t discussed. Cohen said he did and noted that what he knew about was under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. He didn’t say anything more about it, but legal analysts have pointed out there are a lot of things that prosecutors and law enforcement know that the public doesn’t.
Also, while the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform at times dealt with issues dealing with Russia, lawmakers did not publicly address the pending issues of the special counsel’s Russia probe. Those issues are no doubt being discussed behind closed doors in Cohen’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee.
No Russian collusion?
This topic was a bright spot for Trump during Cohen’s testimony. Cohen said he could not say whether there had been Russian collusion during the 2016 campaign, though he had “suspicions.” He did suggest that the president may have known about a meeting with Russians at Trump Tower before it happened, noting he witnessed Donald Trump, Jr. speaking in hushed tones to his father about what he thought might have been about that meeting. But that was far less concrete than some of the other things Cohen said.
However, Cohen revealed that Trump may have known about a WikiLeaks breach during the presidential campaign before it happened, through his longtime adviser Roger Stone. That’s likely to be followed up in Cohen’s testimony behind closed doors to the House intelligence panel.
‘Liar, liar pants on fire’
Republicans hammered at Cohen’s credibility throughout Wednesday’s hearing. He was repeatedly called a liar who can’t be trusted, and who will soon be in prison in part because he lied earlier to Congress. At one point, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., put up a large poster board of Cohen, with the childhood saying, “Liar, Liar Pants on Fire!” He went back and forth with Cohen, calling him a pathological liar.”
Rep. Paul Gosar: “You’re a pathological liar! You don’t know truth from falsehood.”
— ABC News (@ABC) February 27, 2019
Republicans also suggested that Cohen didn’t tell the truth at times during the hearing, questioning his assertions that he didn’t ever want a job at the White House. The political strategy was clearly aimed at taking Cohen down and saying he couldn’t be trusted. But it was interesting that GOP lawmakers didn’t do more to speak on behalf of the president, even as they skewered the Democrats’ star witness. Cohen’s testimony, which stopped short of claiming there had been Russian collusion, failed to get much follow-up from the president’s supporters.
‘We’re better than that’
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Democratic chairman of the oversight committee, had a difficult job overseeing such a politically explosive hearing.
At times, the hearing threatened to veer out of control, but Cummings always managed to get it back on track. To be sure, the veteran Democratic lawmaker had his own political points to make, and at times clashed with Republicans on the panel.
But at the end of the hearing, he made an impassioned speech appealing to fellow lawmakers help make the country better.
Noting that the president had called Cohen a “rat,” Cummings went on to say: “We’re better than that. We really are. I’m hoping that all of us can get back to this democracy that we want and that we should be passing on to our children so that they can do better than what we did.”
WTOP’s Capitol Hill Correspondent Mitchell Miller reports from Washington, D.C.