SPONSORED:

The Memo: 5 takeaways from Cohen’s explosive day of testimony

President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen testified in public Wednesday, appearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Cohen’s testimony elicited enormous fascination — and turned out to be the most tumultuous day of public congressional testimony since fired FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyTop Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon The new marshmallow media in the Biden era McCabe defends investigation of Trump before Senate committee: We had 'many reasons' MORE appeared in June 2017.

Here are the five takeaways from Cohen’s appearance:

New details, new drama

ADVERTISEMENT

Cohen offered some explosive new allegations — in addition to calling Trump a “racist,” a “con man” and a “cheat” in his opening statement.

Specifically, Cohen argued that Trump had pressed him to lie about the timeline of discussions regarding a project to build a Trump property in Moscow — albeit without making the instruction explicit.

“He would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie,” Cohen asserted.

Cohen also said that Trump’s personal attorneys, including Jay Sekulow, edited his initial, false statement to Congress on this matter. In a text message to The Hill and other outlets, Sekulow called the allegation “completely false.”

There are other details that were left dangling in an intriguing way. 

Cohen, asked when he last spoke to Trump or someone representing him, said there was contact last summer but added that he could not give details because of an investigation by prosecutors from the Southern District of New York. 

Even beyond such tantalizing details, the sheer drama of Cohen’s appearance was something to behold. 

Human details were much more powerful when Cohen delivered them in person than they seemed when his prepared testimony was released on Tuesday night. 

One example was his unverified story of Donald Trump Jr.Don John TrumpMost Republicans in new poll say they'd vote for Trump in 2024 President says Trump Jr. doing 'very well' after COVID-19 diagnosis Trump has not prepared a concession speech: report MORE whispering to his father about a 2016 meeting having been set up — something which Cohen now suggests referred to the Trump Tower meeting in June of that year between members of Trump’s family and his campaign on one side and a Russian lawyer on the other.

Cohen held his own

Cohen has obvious credibility problems. He is about to start a three-year jail sentence for, among other things, lying to Congress. He was a diehard defender of the president before turning against him.

Still, Cohen did not crumble or lose his temper before the panel as some thought he might.

He delivered a measured performance for the most part, almost never rising to the bait from Republican members of the panel, while showing occasional flashes of humor.

The credibility of his allegations against Trump was enhanced because he declined some chances to hit the president on the wildest allegations. 

He pushed back hard on the suggestion that a videotape exists of the president striking the first lady, Melania TrumpMelania TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony MORE, in an elevator. “He would never, ever do something like that,” Cohen said.

Cohen also let his emotions show through at times, welling up as he expressed regret for his actions and claiming that he rarely walks in public with his wife or children because he is fearful of attacks.

GOP lashed Cohen as an unreliable witness

ADVERTISEMENT

Republican lawmakers used Cohen’s credibility problems to attack him again and again — part of a larger effort to suggest his accusations should be discounted.

The effort started in the hearing’s opening moments when the panel’s ranking member, Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanCheney, top GOP lawmakers ask Trump campaign for proof of election fraud New RSC chairman sees 'Trumpism' as future Sunday shows preview: Biden team gears up for transition, Trump legal battles continue and pandemic rages on MORE (R-Ohio), suggested that Congress would “legitimize dishonesty” by merely having Cohen testify. 

Moments later, Rep. Mark GreenMark GreenCheney seeks to cool tensions with House conservatives USAID deputy leader ousted in staff shakeup amid vote counting USAID acting administrator required to leave post by midnight MORE (R-Tenn.) called Cohen’s presence a “travesty” and hit him as a “fake witness.”

Other lawmakers suggested Cohen was hoping to cash in on his infamy by negotiating a book deal or that he was motivated to turn on Trump because of disappointment that he did not get a White House job.

Cohen vigorously pushed back on these attacks, but the GOP will have likely done enough to neutralize the effect of the testimony among conservative voters.

Some lawmakers on both sides overreached

The quality of lawmakers’ questions gets criticized — fairly or otherwise — at almost every congressional hearing. 

But there were some moments during Wednesday’s hearing that were particularly striking. Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierDemocratic Women's Caucus members split endorsements for House campaign chief Pentagon puts on show of force as questions circle on COVID-19 outbreak Candymakers meet virtually with lawmakers for annual fly-in, discuss Halloween safety MORE (D-Calif.) was at first effective in getting Cohen to estimate there were as many as 500 occasions when Trump had urged him to threaten an adversary. 

But Speier also went on to ask about the idea that Trump had fathered a “love child” — something that Cohen denied, making the question appear prurient.

Even more controversially, Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump administration revives talk of action on birthright citizenship MORE (R-N.C.) sought to refute Cohen’s allegation that Trump is a racist by bringing Lynne Patton, a senior official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development who previously worked for the Trump family, to the hearing. Patton is African-American.

The argument from Meadows was that Patton would not have worked for a racist. But the move came off ham-handedly, opening up Meadows to accusations of tokenism. Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibBiden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks GOP congresswoman-elect wants to form Republican 'Squad' called 'The Force' MORE (D-Mich.) accused Meadows of an act that was “racist in itself.”

This is just the start

Cohen’s repeated naming of other people who, he said, had knowledge of questionable dealings seems like an obvious pretext for Democrats to issue more demands for testimony.

In particular, Cohen named Trump’s oldest children — Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka — repeatedly. 

The Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, also got frequent namechecks, including for allegedly being involved in organizing reimbursement to Cohen for his payments to secure the silence of adult-film star Stephanie Clifford, professionally known as Stormy Daniels.

On NBC News, Chuck Todd described the hearing as “the first unofficial hearing of the impeachment process.”

One thing’s for sure: There is a lot of turmoil ahead for Trump and people close to him.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.