On Jan. 17, BuzzFeed News released the dramatic claim that former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen said he had been told to lie to Congress about a deal for a Trump Tower in Russia. Almost immediately, the special counsel released a statement saying that story wasn’t materially true.
Since then, the claim about whether Trump told Cohen to lie about the property deal has been walked back little by little. Now we have the transcript of his testimony, which the Democrats say vindicates their claims Trump and his crew were spinning a web of lies.
In the middle of all of it, however, was a Cohen statement that undermines a great deal of what he said.
So, if you’re unfamiliar with the most explosive — and problematic — claim the former attorney and current inmate made, here’s the TL;DR version: When Cohen testified before the House Intelligence Committee in a closed-door two-day session in March, he made it clear that Trump told him in “coded” language to lie about when negotiations for the Moscow Trump Tower ended when Cohen testified before Congress in 2017.
“Mr. Trump asked — President Trump asked me: ‘Why did you say no? Just cooperate.’ He goes: ‘There’s nothing here. There’s no Russia. There’s no collusion. There’s no business dealings. Why didn’t you cooperate?’” Cohen said during his testimony, according to The Daily Caller.
“Mr. Cohen, I just want to be really clear about something you testified to just a couple minutes ago. Describing that Oval Office meeting you had with [Trump lawyer] Jay Sekulow and the President, you said the President said to you, just cooperate. And are you telling this committee that you understood him to be telling you indirectly to lie?” a staffer asked Cohen.
“Yes,” Cohen replied.
Cohen also told the committee that Sekulow edited his statement to Congress to make it appear that negotiations had stopped in January 2016 — a critical date, since it took place before the Iowa caucuses.
“I lied to Congress about when Mr. Trump stopped negotiating the Moscow Tower project in Russia. I stated that we stopped negotiating in January 2016. That was false – our negotiations continued for months later during the campaign,” Cohen said, according to ABC News.
“You need to know that Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it.”
This was enough for the chairman of the thoroughly dysfunctional House Intelligence Committee, one Rep. Adam Schiff, to release a grave-sounding statement about just What It All Means For the Country when the transcripts were dropped.
“With the completion of Special Counsel Mueller’s work and the release of his report, it is critically important that the Committee, and the Congress, make public as much information as possible that bears on Mueller’s findings, explain the evidence he uncovered, and expose the obstructive actions taken by this President and those who surround him,” Schiff, a California Democrat, said.
“It is in this light that the Committee today releases the transcripts of two days of interviews of Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.”
Pretty serious stuff. One thing that Schiff didn’t highlight, however, was this exchange between another congressional staffer and Cohen about whether the president’s lawyer was absolutely sure about the meaning of “cooperate.”
“And I’m just thinking maybe, perhaps, you had this code, but because he said cooperate, there’s nothing to be afraid of, cooperate, not that he said ‘nothing to be afraid of,’ but you see what l’m saying — cooperate, you know, there is no Russia, go forward, that is certainly a plausible explanation, no?” the staffer asked.
“It’s plausible,” Cohen said.
I could really call for summary judgment and end this article — and any further discussion of Cohen — now.
This is the president’s lawyer, the man whose 24-karat headline-grabbing accusation during his grovel-session before Congress — the one where he was supposed to be telling the truth — was that he knew that Donald John Trump, the 45th president of these United States, was telling him to lie during his previous appearance before Congress because he knew the code in which they talked. But then, when asked if it was plausible that this wasn’t code, he admitted that it was totally plausible.
I’ve always been confused at this syllogism: Michael Cohen is a bad person who did rotten things, and it doesn’t reflect well on Donald Trump that he was Trump’s personal attorney or that he lied before Congress. Therefore, we should all believe what Michael Cohen is saying to Congress now.
I’m perfectly fine with concurring with the first two points. I understand he could have his deal with prosecutors revoked if he were proved to be lying this time — and face further charges of lying to Congress, no less.
Then again, that looming threat didn’t stop him the first time, the same way the threat of legal punishments for all of the other non-Trump-related things Cohen pleaded guilty to didn’t stop him from doing them, either.
Are we to place trust in the guy who recently sent letters to congressional Democrats begging to be spared from jail for the time being because he just happened to have stumbled across a hard drive with 14 million files on it, some potentially relating to Trump, and only he can properly put them in order? Is this the guy House Democrats are going to co-sign for?
On anything but his most recent testimony before them, no. But that testimony keeps getting the headlines, and God knows Adam Schiff needs them. It’s a bellows for a party desperate to keep that obstruction flame going, and the fact that a congenital liar and criminal handed it to them is unimportant.
“It’s plausible.” Those two words should have been the epitaph on this whole story. Instead, they’re just going to be ignored in the blizzard of utterances made by a man desperate to keep himself out of prison.
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