We’re Not Better Than This

Rep. Elijah Cummings wrapped up the day-long public hearing today with the repeated statement that “we are better than this.” I understand what he was trying to say but I have to say it is simply not true. Michael Cohen’s riveting and history-making testimony, supported by documents, showed conclusively that the sitting president of the United States engaged in fraudulent and criminal schemes to cover up payments that were directly related to the 2016 election, not to mention other matters related to tax fraud and other actions that were, even after Watergate, unimaginable for the highest officer in the federal government.

I have written elsewhere that I did not believe Cohen would lie in this testimony because he knows that Robert Mueller and the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York were watching. He also has seen what has happened to Paul Manafort whom Mueller has called to task for lying during his promised cooperation with the Special Prosecutor’s office. Cohen would have to be insane to testify falsely at this point. He may be many things, not much to admire, but I doubt he is insane.

For their part, the Republicans on the committee were unanimous in their relentless repetition of one theme: Cohen has lied before and can’t be trusted now. What is most compelling is that no Republican asked any questions about Trump’s conduct. Their entire “defense” was to attack, again and again, Cohen’s credibility while ignoring the documents Cohen produced to support his testimony. The best they could do was to place into the record articles written by various people about, again, Cohen’s credibility. The Republicans have, I suggest, essentially confessed that Cohen spoke the truth today. Their attempts to deflect were, I believe, a complete failure.

That is not to say that Trump’s political base won’t continue to talk the party line in support of Trump. They will likely see the “rat” claim that Trump made as more compelling and important than the president’s underlying criminal behavior. It will be very interesting to see whether any Republican in Congress, in either house, concludes that the president is no longer supportable. I seriously doubt it.

A final observation. I don’t pretend to understand all the political machinations or strategies that underlie the holding of a hearing such as occurred today, but I was extremely concerned at Chairman Cummings’ reluctance to control the hearing. This enabled Republicans to posture, to talk over the witness, to interrupt other committee members and generally to comport themselves as a bunch of hooligans. Cummings allowed the Republicans to make repeated scurrilous comments about his motives and leadership without response. This was very disappointing. He has more patience than I do. In a similar situation, I would have rigorously enforced proper order and the courtesies that the Republicans loudly bemoaned when, for example, Rep. Tlaib objected to the sordid display of Republicans bringing a black woman into the committee area to “bear witness” to Trump’s alleged non-racism. Cummings should have ruled Reps. Meadows and Jordan were out of order.

The Republicans disgraced the Congress and disgraced themselves today. They should be, but aren’t, ashamed.

The good news is that revelations made today will have legs. There will be more and deeper investigations as a result of Cohen’s testimony, including, very importantly, the names of witnesses who know even more about, and have documents that will show, Donald Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors.

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