Eliot A. Cohen: Honor and dishonor
But Michael Cohen’s testimony was something different. Here was a made-for-TV drama in the middle of a television presidency, an inflection point that drove home how unusual this moment is—in its sordidness and absurdity and lawlessness. Yes, cameras were everywhere, but Cohen’s testimony was made for the screen independent of the fact that many, many screens all over the nation were carrying it.
Foremost, Cohen offered a powerful indictment, clearly transmitted: The president of the United States is poison to our democracy. “He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat,” Cohen intoned in his opening statement. The description was, and likely will remain, impossible to forget. Equally so, the fact that not a single member of Congress chose to defend the president against these allegations—or even address the toxicity of the assessment.
Cohen was devastating in his criticism of Trump, offering the American public a startling profile of the man whom he had served so intimately and whom we have elected to the highest office in the land: “He has both good and bad, as do we all,” Cohen said. “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.” There was no subtlety here, no static.
During the course of his testimony, Cohen went on to offer lurid, Technicolor examples of the sins he had committed, under Trump’s guidance and in his name—details that sounded like less-quoted lines of dialogue from a Goodfellas prequel. How did he know that Trump wanted him to lie to investigators and to Congress? “He doesn’t give you questions, he doesn’t give you orders. He speaks in a code,” said Cohen. “And I understand the code, because I’ve been around him for a decade.”
Ken White: Republicans committed the classic cross-examination blunder
There were extraordinary exchanges, such as this one, about the sheer volume of misbehavior, of potential blackmail and extortion:
Representative Jackie Speier: Okay. How many times did Mr. Trump ask you to threaten an individual or entity on his behalf?
Cohen: Quite a few times.
Speier: Fifty times?
Speier: A hundred times?
Speier: Two hundred times?
Speier: Five hundred times?
But it was Cohen’s presentation of—for the very first time—hard evidence of presidential crimes that set this moment apart from so many others. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments have offered a road map to willing investigative reporters and interested audiences, but Cohen dangled something much simpler and far more common (and therefore apparently more irrefutable) to American audiences, a document that is sure to make its way onto countless novelty mugs and T-shirts in the coming weeks: a check signed by the president offering reimbursement for payoffs to a porn star.