DC DISPATCH-On Wednesday, February 27, I left my house at 630 a.m. and headed over to the Rayburn House Office Building to be an eyewitness to history.
This was the second of three hearings featuring Michael Cohen testifying at the House Oversight Committee hearing chaired by Elijah Cummings, the only one open to the public. Eighteen million viewers tuned in to watch the proceedings on TV, giving Cohen broad exposure. In contrast, Trump's so-called summit taking place at the same time in Vietnam ended abruptly and ahead of schedule with no meaningful outcome.
I joined the public line hoping to catch a glimpse of President Trump's former confidante and fixer. People from Wisconsin to Minnesota and Colorado made the trek to be part of this day, and the lengthy lines reflected this. After waiting several hours, it became clear I was not going to get into the cramped hearing room, so I meandered towards the press area to chat with fellow journalists and photographers. Eventually, I was able to sneak into the hearing room for a few minutes taking photos of the Oversight Committee hearing members.
The room was abuzz with Congressmen and Congresswomen huddled in conspiratorial clusters chatting in whispers, ready to go to war with one another. Democrats were hoping to have Cohen disclose many sordid and shocking details about President Trump's criminal activities; while Republicans hoped to discredit the witness for being a liar -- anything to deflect from the President's omnipotent role in an increasingly broad-ranging criminal enterprise.
In a cold open, the vexatious Mark Meadows (photo above, left) wasted little time and started complaining about Democrats violating committee rules. Meadows whined about violations of rule 9F, trying to use it as the basis for delaying and rescheduling the hearing. Rule 9F calls for written testimony and exhibits to be submitted to committee members 24 hours in advance. Congressman Jim Jordan, (photo above, right) the ranking Republican reprobate who has a talent for non-sequiturs, barked like a Pekinese on back-up vocals in support of Meadows. However, their technical arguments fell on flat ears, and Cummings kept tight control of the proceedings. The petulant Meadows and Jordan whined in chorus yet lost out on the 9F vote. These two congressmen are having trouble adjusting to their newly neutered status of serving in the minority.
In line with his pattern of shooting blanks, Congressman Meadows quizzed Michael Cohen about an omission on his disclosure form, related to allegations of foreign lobbying hoping to establish a perjury trap. However, freshman LA-based Congresswoman Katie Hill (CA- 25) muzzled that yapper graciously and expeditiously. She informed Congressman Meadows that, “The question is in fact whether witnesses have any contracts or payments originating with a foreign government. It does not cover all foreign entities.” Extending his pattern of odd and puzzling questioning, Mark Meadows tried to land a three-pointer but failed miserably. (Photo left: Congressman Jim Jordan storming out of committee hearing. Photo by Sara Corcoran.)
California was well represented on the Oversight Committee. In addition to Katie Hill and Ro Khanna (CA- 17), Jackie Speier (CA-14) also managed to score some points against the Republicans. Rounding out a solid showing for the Golden State, Speier specifically asked Cohen how many times he had threatened people on the President's behalf and suggested that fifty was the mark. Cohen astonishingly admitted that the figure was closer to 500 times over a ten-year period. Congressman Jimmy Gomez (CA-34) then homed in on Trump’s tax returns and asked Cohen if he believed that they were under audit. Cohen did not believe they were under audit. I expect the California delegation will continue to follow the scent with respect to facts and money.
Congressman Matt Gaetz was hovering on the sidelines, possibly to intimidate the witness after making salacious threats the day before via tweet against Cohen and his family. He looked like a rottweiler hunting for a meal and was curiously out of place in a hearing room of a committee where he does not serve.
The former bartender turned celebrity Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), went right for the jugular in asking Michael Cohen about National Enquirer/AMI’s notorious “catch and kill” schemes to benefit Trump. She also sharply questioned him on Trump’s tax returns, his inflation of assets, and insurance fraud. Then she made him list an endless group of potential witnesses with whom they should follow up -- giving us a detailed road map of where the Committee could dig for the next six months.
AOC asked, "You mentioned that the President was very concerned about the whereabouts of AMI documents collected in the catch and kill operations over the years. Who possessed them? Does that treasure trove of documents still exist?" Although Cohen couldn't confirm the whereabouts of the files, he did mention that either "David Pecker, Barry Levine or Dylan Howard would know." All three are probably holed up at Trump headquarters shredding documents furiously unless they are already in the competent hands of the SDNY.
After Cohen's revelations of Trump's affinity for manipulating the value of his real estate assets, Ocasio seized on the moment and asked, "Would it be helpful for the committee to obtain federal and state tax returns from the President to address that discrepancy?" As a congresswoman from the state where Trump hotels and golf courses are located, it's worth noting that AOC will influence both state and federal attempts to obtain President Trump's corporate and personal returns.
The questioning switched in five-minute intervals between Republicans and Democrats, with 42 members asking questions giving the hearing a disjointed feeling.
Republicans kept repeating the same points -- Mr. Cohen, you are a liar (a fact that was not in dispute and which Mr. Cohen did not contest). Democrats tried to bring up the facts backed up with documentation.
But just as someone would start drilling in on an issue, we would be back to gotcha and attack. Congressman Mark Meadows called upon Lynn Paton, a regional HUD Administrator/wedding planner to bring some Apprentice-style drama to the hearing. Meadows used her presence to demonstrate – poorly -- that Trump is not a racist.
The Meadows ploy was so up in smoke that he had to change tactics midcourse. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) objected to Meadows bringing a black woman into the hearing and using her as a prop. Fortunately, Cummings stepped in and tempered the mood, and the trial by Oversight moved along.
Cohen has taken a leap of faith and disclosed secrets, lies, and alibis which will afford him protection by the Democrats that will extend beyond his prison term. Although Congressmen Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows are making plans for Michael, which include perjury charges and attempts to discredit his testimony further, I expect them to have little success. Exhibiting his bias, Congressman Jordan belittled Lanny Davis' talents in his cold open. However, I expect Mr. Davis to have the final say and the last laugh. Any smart D.C. insider would want Lanny Davis to choreograph your Hill testimony. It is Mr. Davis who is running this show and negotiating with members of Congress behind the scenes. No one could believe that he was working for free, but that is what Mr. Cohen asserted, and there is more than financial remuneration at stake.
The exposure of Trump's misdeeds is a public service, and I expect that Lanny is just getting started at throwing the hounds off the scent, especially the Pekinese and Rottweiler breeds. Mr. Davis was very pleased with his client's ability to endure three days of grueling questioning, never once losing his temper despite all the needling. As Elijah Cummings paraphrased it, “I don't know if people believe you…[but] I admire the fact that you came here to testify, you admitted your mistakes, and you want to change your life. I hope this process will lead to a better Michael Cohen, and better Donald Trump, a better United States of America and a better world," and that this hearing will have helped to keep "our democracy intact." Let's hope Elijah Cummings is right.
(Sara Corcoran is publisher of the National Courts Monitor and writes for CityWatch, Daily Koz, The Frontier Post and other news outlets.) Photo of Mark Meadows by Sara Corcoran. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.