Justin Amash is the unlikely GOP hero of Cohen hearing

Justin Amash is the unlikely GOP hero of Cohen hearing
© Greg Nash

I must admit that I was riveted by Michael Cohen’s testimony Wednesday at the hearing convened by House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsThe Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? House committee launches investigation into Transportation Secretary Chao Pence extends olive branch to Cummings after Trump's Baltimore attacks MORE (D-Md.). As a witness, President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness, ballots and battling opioids: Why the Universal Postal Union benefits the US Sanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE’s former attorney — facing three years in prison for campaign finance violations and lying to Congress before — appeared contrite, sympathetic, sad … and devastating. It doesn’t matter how many times we have been told that President Trump is a serial liar, racist, narcissistic con artist, and crusher of small businesses — when these accusations and more are levied in live testimony, it’s stunning.

There were so many highlights of the hearing, it’s hard to recount them. But one of the most powerful was when Cohen told Trump’s GOP supporters on the committee that he once was just like them — committed to protecting the president at any cost. He regrets that, he said: “I’m not protecting Mr. Trump anymore.” For their part, the Republican members looked like they were in an episode of “The Sopranos,” each taking a whack at Cohen with a rhetorical bat for betraying the boss.


Permeating the GOP members’ feigned outrage that a convicted liar could address Congress, while they defend a president who lies perhaps more than any other high-ranking public official in a Western democracy, was pretty rich. These people aren’t complete fools; they know Trump is a liar — but he is their mechanism to cling to power when demographics otherwise might doom the Republican Party.

Then, a light shined through the self-righteous hazing of Cohen that masqueraded as questioning: conservative Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.).  

Amash showed how someone actually can exercise oversight responsibility and try to get to the truth, even if the truth might not be in his party’s short-term best interest. Amash asked Cohen the killer question: “What is the truth President Trump is most afraid of people knowing?” Cohen couldn’t answer this utterly probative question, because evidently Trump isn’t afraid of people knowing any truth. As Cohen put it: “When he says he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it, he’s not joking, he’s telling you the truth.” No, what Trump likely is afraid of is losing power, the power to intimidate.  

Trump’s GOP supporters in Congress know perfectly well that all of what Cohen said is true — apart, perhaps, from his not having wanted a job at the White House. But they, too, are outraged by the possibility of losing power. Nearly every allegation about Trump that Cohen made during the hearing has been reported, in some form, before. And mostly, Americans have shown they’re pretty immune to accusations about the president — at least enough of them to allow him to continue to govern.  

But, worrisome for the GOP: What if this is the last straw? What if the American people somehow wake up and, instead of seeing this whole thing as tribal politics, they start to truly examine the president’s behavior? What then? It is exactly what Rep. Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchHillicon Valley: Appeals court rules Trump can't block people on Twitter | Tech giants to testify in House antitrust investigation | DHS set for grilling over facial recognition tech | Commerce to allow sales to Huawei Facebook official responds to Maxine Waters on cryptocurrency project House Democrats call for Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project MORE (D-Mass.) so forcefully said to Cohen and the GOP chorus of Trump apologists on the committee: “[The House GOP members] aren't afraid you’re going to lie. I think they’re afraid you’re going to tell the truth.”

So here’s to Rep. Amash for showing everyone how to ask a meaningful question of a witness you may not like or trust, about a topic that’s difficult for your political party. See, it wasn’t so hard. Now if we just had 200 more like Amash, we’d actually have a House of Representatives.

Krystal Ball is the liberal co-host of “Rising,” Hill.TV’s bipartisan morning news show. She is president of The People’s House Project, which recruits Democratic candidates in Republican-held congressional districts of the Midwest and Appalachia, and a former candidate for Congress in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @krystalball.