Congressmen Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan of the so-called Freedom Coalition, famously or infamously (depending on your POV) filed a criminal referral with the DOJ against Michael Cohen, accusing him of perjury before the House Oversight Committee.
Strangely, it had nothing to do with Cohen’s describing the president as a racist, liar or conman. Perhaps it was Cohen’s suggestion that Trump was guilty of a criminal conspiracy while president to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels? Or, that he was guilty of bank fraud by knowingly inflating his net worth to Deutche Bank to obtain a 1 billion dollar loan? Or lying about actively pursuing a deal to build a Moscow Trump Tower during the campaign? Or stiffing small businessmen 500 times out of money he owed them? Nope! It was none of those things. They accused Cohen of lying about his own ambition, or lack of same, for a job in the Trump White House. Uhhh… Compared to this other stuff, who cares?
What’s notable about this is that their criminal referral exactly reflects the strategy employed by every GOP member of the committee. Not a single GOP questioner either defended the charges against the president, or attempted to debunk any of Cohen’s substantive accusations against Trump. Their lone attack against Cohen’s testimony was that Cohen is a liar. Well, that’s not news. The obvious weakness of that strategy is that Trump is the Liar-in-Chief! If Cohen can’t be trusted because he is an admitted liar in the service of Donald J. Trump, how does that help the president who makes Cohen look like the most honest man in the Trump organization? Moreover, whom do they expect to get testimony from? Finding a close associate of Donald Trump who hasn’t pled guilty to a felony, isn’t under indictment or an immunity deal or isn’t the subject of a criminal investigation is like finding a virgin in a house of ill repute.
The irony of all this is that 24 hours hadn’t elapsed before Trump himself and the latest Trump White House scandal completely sabotaged the GOP congressional narrative. Jordan, Meadows, and others all hung their hats on the argument that if you lie once, nothing you say can be trusted. Cohen is a convicted liar, so nothing he alleges should be taken seriously. Trump himself undermined that argument from the summit podium in Vietnam as he declared Cohen’s honesty regarding collusion with Russia. Cohen, according to Trump, testified that there was no collusion and that part of his testimony can be trusted. Of course, that isn’t what Cohen actually said. Then, less than a day transpired before it was absolutely and irrefutably documented that Trump, Ivanka and Jared Kushner’s attorney all lied on TV about how Jared received his Top Secret security clearance over the objections of the FBI, CIA, Chief of Staff Kelly and White House Counsel McGhan. Compared to Trump and his family, Cohen’s credibility and trustworthiness in the committee appears stellar, which I admit isn’t saying much.
The common wisdom is that we didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know as a result of Cohen’s public testimony, but I disagree. One thing we learned is that the Mueller investigation is almost certainly the sideshow. Cohen produced enough documents and names of potential witnesses to keep several congressional committees and federal and state prosecutors very busy for years. I literally can’t wait to hear from Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s long-time CFO who appears to have had a hand in every dollar coming in or going out in Trump World. We heard first-hand from the most inside man in the organization (whose name isn’t Trump) just how amoral and corrupt the everyday business culture of the Trump organization is and always has been.
But we also learned something else. We learned how the corrosion of public morality, ethics and trust works. For two years, the congressional GOP has turned a blind eye to Donald Trump’s daily lies, bullying tweet-storms and destruction of the norms and guardrails that have governed presidential behavior until now. They have silently watched our president wage rhetorical war against our/his own intelligence community, DOJ, the press, his former employees and even members of his own party who have the temerity and integrity to criticize him. They hitched their own political ambitions to the Trump train, knowing exactly what this president is all about.
Jordan, Meadows and their GOP colleagues who once stood for fiscal responsibility, and literally screamed bloody murder about Obama-era executive overreach, are now silent in the face of the biggest deficits in the history of the republic – all accrued during a period of economic growth, and defend what they know is a fictitious national emergency. They have sacrificed even the appearance of values and political integrity in a Faustian bargain with Donald J. Trump. And the real tragedy is that they seem totally unaware of the bargain they have made or the cost of that bargain, and it’s not a pretty sight! If the clock isn’t ticking on the Trump presidency, the road back to normalcy will be very long, indeed.