John Dean, White House counsel under Richard Nixon, testified before Congress in June 1973. Across five days of public testimony and 60,000 words of prepared remarks, Dean implicated Nixon in the coverup of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel
Similarly, Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, testified before Congress against his former client last week.
His testimony covered the breadth of the transgressions President Trump and his allies are being investigated for, including dubious business practices, the hush money payment made to an adult film actress and the president’s involvement with Russia.
The Dean testimony was the beginning of the end for Nixon, who would resign a little more than a year later. We don’t yet know if Cohen’s testimony will have the same effect for President Trump. Nonetheless, his testimony is an important step in oversight that was sorely lacking in the last Congress.
The hearing put on the record many things we already knew. We already knew that President Trump is a cheat, a con man and a racist. We already knew that Democrats were fully prepared to conduct thorough oversight. We already knew that Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform would try to discredit Cohen by pointing to his past dishonesty before Congress.
What we learned was the length that these congressional Republicans would go to to protect the president. If the people tasked with holding the president to account can’t remove themselves from their partisanship, we may be faced with a major political party endorsing criminal activity by the leader of the free world.
One of the more remarkable things about Republicans protecting the president is that it stands in the face of mounting credible evidence.
Cohen’s opening statement included several damning documents related to the hush money payment and the president’s business practices. Among them were two checks made out to Cohen during the president’s term, documents showing how the president inflated his own net worth and others that showcased shady business practices.
A few Democratic lawmakers engaged with the documents. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) deftly laid a foundation for future congressional investigation with her questions about the president potentially reporting inflated assets to insurance companies.
Republicans on the committee weren’t so adept in their interrogation of the documents. They didn’t even attempt to ask further questions on them.
From Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on down, the Republican side took the time to attempt to further smear a man who has already been convicted and given a three-year prison sentence. Cohen himself pointed out the stupidity of this line of questioning.
“I take responsibility for my mistakes,” Cohen said. “I am remorseful and I am going to prison … I will be away from my wife and family for years. So before you turn around and cast more aspersions, there are more people watching me today who know me a whole lot better.”
Rather than stopping there, the Republicans continued attacking Cohen. Most of them used their five-minute slot to grandstand about anything from a potential book deal for Cohen to simply calling him a “liar liar pants on fire” like a group of five-year-olds.
Through all this, no Republican on the committee defended the president on the substance of what Cohen said.
The most rousing defense of the president came from Freedom Caucus all-star Rep. Mark Meadows (R-S.C.). Meadows brought out a Trump ally, who is black, to use as a prop to illustrate that because the president employs black people, he’s not racist.
Right. Because we should be made to believe Meadows, a man who, during his 2012 congressional campaign, said,“We are going to send Mr. Obama home to Kenya or wherever it is.”
There’s a serious problem when the best thing that’s said about the president in a congressional hearing is the fact that he’s not a racist. As if it were some grand achievement.
But even with all that, the most alarming part of the Cohen hearing came at the end.
“Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power,” Cohen said in his closing remarks.
The president’s authoritarian tendencies have been well documented. In tandem with the Republicans’ unwillingness to question the alleged actions of the president, President Trump’s tendencies create the potential for a future where he could threaten the integrity of our entire electoral system.
Congressional Republicans went belly-up for the president through the entire hearing. No substantive questions. No substantive defense. No oversight. Behavior like this embarrasses Congress.