Everyone involved in the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Wednesday needed a good lawyer.
Michael Cohen, the convicted felon, disbarred lawyer, and former fixer to Donald Trump, needed a trial lawyer to rein in his mugging for the camera and his tendency to take cheap shots at his detractors, and to remind him of the limits of his own credibility. He needed a stern counselor to elbow him in the ribs, to tell him not to bait the politicians even if they deserved it, and to hiss at him, Stop quibbling over what lobbying for Kazakh banks means. Stop it this instant.
House Democrats needed a good trial lawyer, too, to teach them how to handle a morally bankrupt cooperating witness. As a former prosecutor, I know that your tone has to be stern and your questioning methodical. You have to convey to your audience that although the witness is nobody to admire, he can still offer useful information. If you’re friendly, the jury just thinks you’ve fallen for a con artist. The Democrats treated Cohen like a minor celebrity, perhaps a YouTube star. A trial lawyer would not have simply drawn out Cohen’s incriminating information about Trump, but used Cohen to emphasize the corroborating evidence from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that backs up many of his accusations. This was an opportunity to build the outline of a case against Trump. Democrats didn’t. Instead, they triumphantly repeated Cohen’s more salacious accusations, speechified, and uncritically embraced Cohen’s I-am-a-sinner-seeking-redemption narrative. They didn’t hurt his credibility, but they utterly squandered the chance to support it.