The long-awaited public Congressional testimony of Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen accuses the US president of breaking campaign finance law and lying repeatedly to the American people.
But it also exposed the ongoing rift between the tight-knit group of Republicans, particularly those in the Freedom Caucus, who remain loyal to Trump, and the rest of the government.
Hundreds of members of the public lined the halls of the House’s Rayburn office building, hoping to get one of the limited number of seats at the testimony. They spilled over into overflow rooms, at points gasping at Cohen’s testimony, applauding his remarks as he called Trump a “racist,” a “con man,” and a “liar,” and sometimes laughing at Cohen’s deadpan responses.
There were few vocal Trump supporters in the general audience, but there appeared to be plenty of them on the House Oversight Committee. In three hours of questioning so far, the Republican members of the Oversight committee focused universally on Cohen’s crimes, the legal advice that he gave to Trump, and his personal character. They were often excoriating.
“You’re a pathological liar. You don’t know truth from falsehood,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, about two hours into the hearing. “Are you referring to me or the president?” Cohen asked.
Minutes later, he launched into what seemed like an ad hoc diatribe when asked by Rep. Jim Cooper, the Tennessee Democrat, what made him change his mind after 10 years of working for Trump.
“Helsinki,” Cohen said, referring to Trump’s controversial meeting with Vladimir Putin, in which the US president appeared to side with the Russian leader on the issue of whether Russia interfered in the US election. “Charlottesville,” he added, referring to the protest in which a woman was killed by a neo-Nazi supporter who Trump failed to condemn afterward. “Watching the daily destruction of our civility to one another,” Cohen said, indicating the Republican Congress members, is “really unbecoming of Congress,” and “it is that sort of behavior that I’m responsible for.”
“I did the same thing that you’re doing now for 10 years. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years,” he said. “The more people that follow Mr. Trump, as I did blindly, are going to follow the same consequences that I’m suffering,” he said.
He also implied that Trump is dangerous. “When Mr. Trump turned around in the campaign and said, ‘I can shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it,’ he’s not joking, he’s telling you the truth,” Cohen said. “You don’t know him like I do,” he said.