Thursday, February 28, 2019

The .50-caliber Kevlar vest:
Cohen testifies on Capitol Hill

MICHAEL DEAN COHEN testified before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday and called President* Donald Trump everything but a child of God. This was more or less expected; Cohen and The Don parted ways as friends and colleagues a long time ago.

But the depth of detail Cohen offered the committee’s interlocutors into the workings of TrumpWorld was stunning, with an unprecedented scope and scale to his revelations. Cohen, who twice delayed his appearance in Congress, might take an occasional look under his car over the next few months.

Cohen, who once famously said that he would “take a bullet” for Trump, spent more than eight hours in the unusual position of firing back at the man he worked for for almost a decade, with full-throated responses to barbed questions asked by members of the House committee. Cohen replicated his previous role as bullet magnet, only this time he was dealing with the rhetorical artillery of truculent Republican congressmen and women deeply pissed off.

But it all started with Cohen reading 20 pages of prepared remarks that laid the man bare, and offered to the public what may well be the proverbial smoking gun of a document, the one that may directly implicate the president of the United States in a documented violation of campaign finance laws. Even the excerpts of that 20-page salvo are powerful in themselves. Candor, even in small doses, can be a weaponizing thing.

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“He is a racist, he is a con man, and he is a cheat. ...

“Mr. Trump is an enigma. He is complicated, as am I. He has both good and bad, as do we all. But the bad far outweighs the good, and since taking office, he has become the worst version of himself. He is capable of behaving kindly, but he is not kind. He is capable of committing acts of generosity, but he is not generous. He is capable of being loyal, but he is fundamentally disloyal.”

“Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation – only to market himself, and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the ‘greatest infomercial in political history.’ “He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign — for him — was always a marketing opportunity.”

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IN QUICK ORDER, Cohen tried to navigate the indelible Howard Baker question: What did Trump know and when did he know it?

“A lot of people have asked me about whether Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of time. The answer is yes. ...

“Mr. Trump knew from Roger Stone in advance about the WikiLeaks drop of emails. In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect of ‘wouldn’t that be great.’ ... ”

“It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes. I am sharing with you two newspaper articles, side by side, that are examples of Mr. Trump inflating and deflating his assets, as I said, to suit his financial interests. ...”

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Then, on to the matter of hush money paid to adult film star Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels):

“I am providing a copy of a $35,000 check that President Trump personally signed from his personal bank account on August 1, 2017 – when he was President of the United States – pursuant to the cover-up, which was the basis of my guilty plea, to reimburse me – the word used by Mr. Trump’s TV lawyer -- for the illegal hush money I paid on his behalf. This $35,000 check was one of 11 check installments that was paid throughout the year – while he was President. ...

“The President of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws. You can find the details of that scheme, directed by Mr. Trump, in the pleadings in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.”

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THEN, OF COURSE, there was the matter of the genesis of the relationship with certain people from Russia ...

“Sometime in the summer of 2017, I read all over the media that there had been a meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 involving Don Jr. and others from the campaign with Russians, including a representative of the Russian government, and an email setting up the meeting with the subject line, “Dirt on Hillary Clinton.”

“Something clicked in my mind. I remember being in the room with Mr. Trump, probably in early June 2016, when something peculiar happened. Don Jr. came into the room and walked behind his father’s desk – which in itself was unusual. People didn’t just walk behind Mr. Trump’s desk to talk to him. I recalled Don Jr. leaning over to his father and speaking in a low voice, which I could clearly hear, and saying: ‘The meeting is all set.’ I remember Mr. Trump saying, ‘OK good…let me know.’ ”

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“What struck me as I looked back and thought about that exchange between Don Jr. and his father was, first, that Mr. Trump had frequently told me and others that his son Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world. And also, that Don Jr. would never set up any meeting of any significance alone — and certainly not without checking with his father.

“I also knew that nothing went on in Trump world, especially the campaign, without Mr. Trump’s knowledge and approval. So, I concluded that Don Jr. was referring to that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting about dirt on Hillary with the Russian representative when he walked behind his dad’s desk that day -- and that Mr. Trump knew that was the meeting Don Jr. was talking about when he said, ‘That’s good…let me know.’ ”

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THAT’S JUST the actionable stuff, the legal matters for which Trump’s liability is, shall we say, profound. Cohen didn’t stop there, wading into matters of personal character.

Cohen said Trump asked him to rebuff the media’s pursuit of information about Trump’s medical deferment from the Vietnam War draft. Cohen said Trump privately told him there were no medical records of the bone spurs Trump said affected his heel in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

“When I asked for medical records, he gave me none and said there was no surgery,” Cohen testified. “He told me not to answer the specific questions by reporters but rather offer simply the fact that he received a medical deferment.”

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And Cohen was forthright about Trump’s personal racism, deeply denied by the president*. “The country has seen Mr. Trump court white supremacists and bigots,” he said. “You have heard him call poorer countries ‘shitholes.’ He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a ‘shithole.’ This was when Barack Obama was president of the United States.”

He and Trump were driving through a poor Chicago neighborhood during the campaign, he said. According to Cohen, Trump said that “only black people could live that way.” Cohen said that, later, Trump admitted that the African American vote was almost certainly lost to him: “ ‘Black people would never vote for [me] because they were too stupid.’

“And yet I continued to work for him.”

“For those who question my motives for being here today, I understand,” Cohen said at the conclusion of his prepared remarks. “I have lied, but I am not a liar. I have done bad things, but I am not a bad man. I have fixed things, but I am no longer your ‘fixer,’ Mr. Trump.”

Image credits: Cohen: Mander Ngan/AFP/Getty Images. Trump: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images. Stone: Seth Wenig/Associated Press. Donald Trump Jr.: via The Source.

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