Michael Cohen is drafting for history.
Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
Stagecraft.
★★★★★

Michael Cohen’s testimony to Congress is an artistic masterpiece

By Ephrat Livni

The biggest revelation in Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen testimony before Congress today (Feb. 27) may have been his hidden theatrical talent.

Cohen—who has no future in the law after being disbarred by the New York Bar Association yesterday—can at least keep polishing scripts and his performance when in federal prison. He will be behind bars for campaign-finance violations and for lying in previous testimony to Congress. (Here’s how you can watch the hearing, which started at 10am US Eastern time, on TV and online.)

If his delivery of his opening statement is any indication, any memoir or movie deal he may be part of promises to be a literary excursion.

Cohen’s pace was deliberate and precise

Cohen was somber and regretful as he revealed his personal failings, admitting he was ashamed of his behavior, his blinding ambition, his “intoxication” with Trump’s power and his loyalty to a man he called, “a racist, a conman, and a cheat.” Apologizing to his parents, family, and the American people for lying and letting them down, the president’s former counsel said, “I have lied but I am not a liar. I have done bad things but I am not a bad man. I have fixed things but I am no longer your ‘fixer,’ Mr. Trump.”

The testimony—no matter who wrote it—appeared to be both brutally honest and finely polished, each sentence delivering the promise of a devastating truth, rather stylishly. The sentences were short. His sentiments powerful. And his accusations against the president were damning.

Cohen was methodical about making his points

Cohen addressed each of his opening contentions, namely, that Trump is “a racist”, “a cheat”, and “a conman.” In the process, he also portrayed the US president as a draft-dodging bully who likely was an unremarkable student and certainly doesn’t seem to care much for the country.

“The sad fact is that I never heard Mr. Trump say anything in private that led me to believe he loved our nation or wanted to make it better. In fact, he did the opposite,” the former Trump fixer said.

In addressing Trump’s racism, Cohen noted that Trump has been vocal about calling poorer countries, like Haiti, “shitholes.”

“In private, he is even worse,” Cohen said. “He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a shithole. This was when Barack Obama was president of the United States.”

Cohen was hardest on himself

The beauty of Cohen’s testimony is that he reserved the harshest judgments for himself, repeatedly returning to a refrain about his failings.

“And yet, I continued to work for him,” Cohen noted after each admission. Trump may have been monstrous but that didn’t stop the fixer.

Referring to Trump as “a cheat,” Cohen pointed out that “Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.” Calling the president “a conman,” Cohen discussed reimbursement for his payoff to adult film star Stormy Daniels, checks he wrote on his client’s behalf so that she would not disclose her affair with Trump, stating:

Picture this scene–in February 2017, one month into his presidency, I’m visiting President Trump in the Oval Office for the first time. It’s truly awe-inspiring, he’s showing me around and pointing to different paintings, and he says to me something to the effect of, “Don’t worry, Michael, your January and February reimbursement checks are coming. They were Fed-Exed from New York and it takes a while for that to get through the White House system.” As he promised, I received the first check for the reimbursement of $70,000 not long thereafter.

Trump’s cons began early on, it seems. He has claimed he didn’t fight in the Vietnam war because of heel spurs that led to a medical deferment. Cohen said there was no medical record to support Trump’s contention. And he said that Trump had told him not to answer specific questions from reporters, just simply refer to the deferment, concluding, “You think I’m stupid? I wasn’t going to Vietnam.”

Cohen was measured and calm

His display of assurance made the pace of Cohen’s revelations steady and sure. But he did reserve one harsh, direct jab for Trump at that point, showing that his testimony was as much a communication with his former client as with the American people. His voice wavering only slightly, Cohen remarked, “I find it ironic, President Trump, that you are in Vietnam right now.”

Cohen nailed the finale

Then he returned to his sorrowful refrain—and to the congressional panel and the public—again, saying, “And yet, I continued to work for him.”

Cohen acknowledged he is going to prison for his bad decisions and will continue to pay the consequences all his life. However, he ended on a hopeful note:

But today, I get to decide the example I set for my children and how I attempt to change how history will remember me. I may not be able to change the past, but I can do right by the American people here today.

And if history is to judge Cohen on the literary merits of his testimony alone—which it won’t—the former first fixer would come out a winner.