What will Michael Cohen tell Congress about Donald Trump — and who will believe him?

It will be must-see TV on Tuesday as Michael Cohen presents what he says is evidence that Trump broke the law

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published February 27, 2019 6:00AM (EST)

Donald Trump; Michael Cohen (Getty/Salon)
Donald Trump; Michael Cohen (Getty/Salon)

Michael Cohen, the longtime personal attorney and private fixer for Donald Trump, will testify in public before the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday. Cohen's testimony is surrounded by questions, but here's the big one: Can he prove that Trump committed a crime?

Cohen will almost certainly say that the future president broke the law during the 2016 campaign, but that's not enough. Even if Cohen didn't already have a shady reputation from his years as Trump's legal strongman, he has already admitted to lying under oath, so it's fair to say his credibility is diminished. The White House is already preparing for Cohen's testimony by highlighting that fact.

"Disgraced felon Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying to Congress and making other false statements," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. "Sadly, he will go before Congress this week and we can expect more of the same. It’s laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies."

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, one of Trump's most loyal congressional allies, expressed similar sentiments on Twitter.

By contrast, House Oversight Committee chair Elijah Cummings, D-Md., explained in a statement that Cohen is "the only person that I know of who has accused this President of a crime, and so I think it's only fair to the President and to Michael Cohen and to the public that he come forward so that they'll have an opportunity to observe his demeanor. Republicans will be able to ask him questions, just like in a cross examination, and then they can make their own judgments."

That underscores the nature of the challenge in this public hearing. Cohen is easy to attack, and Republicans are doing so with gusto. Understandably, Democrats are lukewarm in urging people to listen. If Cohen hopes to deal a fatal blow to Trump's presidency, he must do so by what he can prove about his former boss, not merely what he says.

In that vein, Cohen claims he has a document that will prove Trump broke campaign finance laws in order to cover up his affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, according to Politico. Cohen says the document proves that Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani lied when he said Cohen used a $35,000 a month retainer from Trump to pay hush money to Daniels. Cohen also promises to explain how he was told to lie by the president, although it is unclear whether he will have any evidence to back up those assertions. Similarly, it's unclear whether Cohen will have anything beyond his word when he testifies that he has heard Trump make racist remarks, which would not be criminal or impeachable but would certainly damage  the president's reputation.

The essence of Cohen's credibility problems was echoed by former judge Andrew Napolitano, who despite working for Fox News has become a harsh critic of the president. Napolitano pointed out on Tuesday that "no lawyer — prosecutor or defense counsel — would put Michael Cohen on the stand and assert that he is credible without a mountain of corroborating evidence to support him. Are we going to get that? Probably not. This is not a 'legal' hearing."

We can be almost sure that Republicans will claim Cohen is lying. To state the obvious, that doesn't mean he is. Given Trump's penchant for what might delicately be called racial insensitivity and his thousands of public falsehoods, it's no stretch to believe he has used racist epithets in the past, ordered Cohen to lie to Congress, and directed him to commit various criminal acts in covering up the alleged Stormy Daniels affair.

But Michael Cohen simply doesn't have the credibility to be taken seriously as a truth-teller. If he wants to redeem his reputation and overcome understandable skepticism from Trump's supporters, he'd better have the receipts -- or get out of the way so that other, more reliable sources can step forward.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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