“It is for exactly that reason I spent the last week searching boxes to find the information that I did so you don’t have to take my word for it,” Cohen said. “I don’t want you to. Look at the documents and make your own decision.”
Cohen presents lawmakers with a difficult conundrum. He is a profligate liar, but he is also unusually well positioned to speak to Trump’s history and to the way his company operated. In fact, given the miasma of untruth that surrounded the Trump Organization, finding anyone who could speak to the company’s dealings who doesn’t have some lies on his or her record might be impossible. (“Every day, most of us knew we were going to come in and lie on something,” Cohen said. “That became the norm.”) Cohen has forfeited the automatic presumption of truthfulness, and his claims require close examination, but concluding that a businessman can insulate himself from scrutiny by simply surrounding himself with liars is surely untenable.
As Chris Christie noted on ABC, Republicans have made little effort to defend Trump on substantive grounds or to dispute Cohen’s claims, other than to attack his credibility. Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona told Cohen, “You are a pathological liar. You don’t know truth from falsehood.” Yet this criticism could describe Trump as well as it does Cohen, given the president’s own history of falsehood.
In the most dramatic moment from the early part of the hearing, Cohen turned the questioning around on Republicans and—perhaps showing why he was such an effective enforcer for Trump—offered them a warning.
“I did the same thing you are doing now for 10 years. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years,” Cohen said. “People who follow Mr. Trump blindly will suffer the same consequences I’m suffering.”
A few interesting morsels of information have emerged in Cohen’s testimony. Cohen suggested that Trump was involved in multiple “catch and kill” agreements in addition to those already known: the hush-money deals with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Under questioning from Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, Cohen said that Trump paid him out of his personal account to reimburse him for hush money while he was president, and Cohen produced a copy of the check. Cohen also said that he is aware of other misconduct or illegal acts by Trump that are currently under investigation by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Read: What exactly was Michael Cohen doing for Trump?
For the most part, Cohen has remained calm, though he’s occasionally snapped back at Republicans. Many GOP members have yielded some of their time for questioning to Ranking Member Jim Jordan, and few have landed punches on Cohen that aren’t already part of his pleadings, for which he’s been sentenced to serve three years in prison. Cohen has declined to speculate in a couple of cases, and he’s rejected claims of a secret Trump love child and the existence of a recording of Trump hitting his wife. But Cohen has occasionally dodged questions from Republicans, seeming to play dumb in implausible ways. For example, he claimed not to understand a question about whether he had spoken with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office in preparation for the hearing.