Michael Cohen, the former attorney and so-called “fixer” for President Donald Trump, is back on Capitol Hill for a series of hearings that appear to have little real purpose beyond a public demonstration of opposition research – the practice of gathering compromising information, whether factual or not, on one’s political opponents. There is no conceivable scenario in which these hearings produce new and verifiable information that will change anything relating to the special counsel investigation of Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia or with any other investigation targeting the president.
The first and most obvious point to remember about Cohen is that he has already been convicted of lying to Congress. So the very people to whom Cohen has already lied are now proposing that the man who is about to go to prison for that deception is suddenly going to provide them with the truth about Trump.
Cohen has appeared at a closed hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, to be followed by a public hearing before the House Oversight Committee and another closed hearing before the House Intelligence Committee.
What Does Cohen Have Left to Say?
What, then, can Cohen possibly reveal, in any of the hearings, that will have any meaningful impact on the president? Media reports suggest that Cohen will provide the Oversight Committee with documented proof that Trump has engaged in criminal activity while in office. If such documents existed, however, special counsel Robert Mueller would already be in possession of them.
If those documents are pertinent to the Russia investigation, Mueller will present whatever incriminating information they contain in his report, which is said to be nearing completion. If they were not relevant to the scope of the Mueller investigation, the special counsel would have handed them over to prosecutors in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) – who are looking into various financial matters concerning the president.
In either one of those scenarios, nothing Cohen tells the committee will make any difference, as he will be merely providing Congress with information already in the possession of prosecutors. This is something he would not do and probably would not be permitted to do. The only realistic possibility is that Cohen — out of pure spite toward the president – will turn over to congressional Democrats a trove of Trump’s personal documents for them to pick over and leak to the media.
If the Democrats’ aim is to use Cohen’s congressional testimonies to build a case for impeachment, their plan is fatally flawed. The bar for the successful impeachment of a president – meaning a conviction in the Senate – is high, as the Republican Party well knows. Producing a case against Trump that is so serious and so ironclad as to overcome political partisanship, which Republicans were unable to do against Bill Clinton, is not going to be easy if that case is based in part upon the testimony of a man who will serve prison time for various crimes, including lying to Congress.
The only person in any real jeopardy during these hearings is Cohen himself. If he directly incriminates the president in any alleged crimes, only two questions will need to be asked: Did Cohen withhold this information from Mueller or from SDNY investigators? If what he tells Congress is incriminating and as yet undisclosed information, is he being honest?
Trying to Avoid a Bleak Future?
What is in this for Cohen then? He is beyond the point of being able to further cooperate in exchange for a reduced prison sentence, so it would seem that he gains nothing – other than some warped sense of revenge against President Trump for some imagined injustice. In fact, the stakes are enormous for Cohen, and it could benefit him immensely were he able to provide congressional Democrats with something they can use effectively against Trump.
Here is a man who is looking at serving three years in prison, assuming he is not released early, and has very little to look forward to when he gets out. Nobody is ever going to trust him as an attorney, and he has neither the charisma nor the communication skills to find himself a lucrative media contract on the back of his former political associations.
Speaking to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in December 2018, Cohen said: “And one of the hopes that I have out of the punishment that I’ve received, as well as the cooperation that I have given, I will be remembered in history as helping to bring this country back together.” The one aspiration he now holds on to is a post-prison future of fame and fortune as the man who ultimately brought down Trump.
The problem Cohen and, indeed, congressional Democrats have to face, however, is credibility. For their part, Democrats have constantly shown themselves willing to play fast and loose with the truth in their quest to bring Trump down, and now their latest ace in the hole is a known liar whose word alone is worth nothing.