The testimony by President Donald J. Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, represents a material change in the relationship between the president, the Congress, the Justice Department, and ultimately, the citizens of the United States.
Cohen testified Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. In his opening statement, Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said the American public can make up its own judgment about Cohen’s testimony. The former lawyer has admitted lying to Congress and will begin a prison sentence in May.
Yes the public can and will judge. Others (as many Republicans did yesterday) will jump to defend the president. But what will consume the country over the next few months is the “what else?” from this testimony, what Cummings cited as the “documents and other corroborating evidence for some of Mr. Cohen’s statements.”
“For example, he said, “Mr. Cohen has provided a copy of a check sent while the President was in office — with Donald Trump’s signature on it — to reimburse Mr. Cohen for the hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels. This new evidence raises a host of troubling legal and ethical concerns about the President’s actions in the White House and before.
This check is dated August 1, 2017. Six months later, in April of 2018, the President denied knowing anything about it. In April 2018, President Trump was flying on Air Force One when a reporter asked him, quote: “Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?” The president answered, quote: ‘No.’ A month after that, the president admitted making payments to Mr. Cohen, but claimed they were part of ‘a monthly retainer’ for legal services. This claim fell apart in August when federal prosecutors concluded, quote: ‘In truth and in fact, there was no such retainer agreement.’”
The extraordinary thing is that so much of what was said by Cohen is that it can be proven one way or another. There is now evidence, in the record, that can be used by the Congress for impeachment proceedings or a criminal indictment by the Justice Department or even the state of New York.
One: Conformation about what we already know, Trump is a white nationalist. Cohen testified that Trump is a racist. "Trump once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn't a shithole," Cohen said. "This was when Barack Obama was president of the United States." Of course this is not news in Indian Country. This is a story that’s been retold since at least 1993 when the then real estate, gambling operator told a House Committee that his competition “didn’t look Indian to me.”
Two: Cohen produced a personal check with Trump’s signature, dated when in office, that he said reimbursed Cohen for hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. He said there are 11 such checks. This is a paper trail that can be followed, examined, and witnesses will have to say under oath what the checks were for and how they were documented. This includes a check from the check from the Trump Trust signed by Donald Trump, Jr. and Alan Wiesselberg on March 17, 2017.
Three: Cohen said the president filed inaccurate information with the Office of Government Ethics about a retainer for Cohen (the reason for the payments). There either is a retainer or there is not. This can be verified.
Four: Cohen testified that Trump inflated financial statements to a bank while seeking a loan to purchase the Buffalo Bills. “Those statements show President Trump claimed to have boosted his net worth by more than $3 billion over just nine months,” committee documents said. The financial statements can be audited, and compared to the loan application.
Five: Another item on Cohen’s list is the president’s claim about his tax returns. This testimony all but guarantees that Congress will demand those returns. It’s not too far-fetched to expect a similar examination from the IRS itself and the Justice Department. Cohen said President Trump told him the real reason he has refused to release his tax returns is because he is afraid that “tax experts” will “run through his tax return and start ripping it to pieces” and that the president would then be audited and forced to pay additional taxes and penalties. That’s the least of the issues.
Six: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, focused on a Trump golf course in her Bronx district. “I drive past it every day,” she said. She cited a Washington Post story that reported taxpayers contributed $127 million to the project. Then she asked if Trump undervalued that property for tax purposes while overvaluing it for the insurance. “And this doesn’t seem to be the only time the president has benefited at the expense of the public,” she said. Cohen agreed and noted that the Trump National Golf Club at Briarcliff Manor was set up the same way.
"Would it help for the committee to obtain federal and state tax returns from the president and his company?" Ocasio-Cortez asked. That's it. There will be a paper trail. What was the value reported to local government for taxation? What was the value reported to the IRS? And, what was the value on the books, or used to get bank loans for other projects?
Seven: So much of the congressional testimony was about Russia, or hush money, or allegations of the Trump organization as a criminal enterprise. That takes up time and resources. But the most important allegations are those that can be proven document by document.
President Trump tweeted from North Korea his response. “Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately). He had other clients also. He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time. Using Crooked’s lawyer!”
He also said he was impressed that Cohen would not allege “collusion.”