Trust But Verify: Cohen To Return To Congress In Role Of Reformed Sinner

Below is my earlier column on the scheduling of testimony for President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen. The new Democratic majority is right to call Cohen who, while he will not discuss matters under investigation with the Special Counsel, can supply needed details on his allegations on other alleged crimes. While he may bring new details, he will bring little credibility as a proven serial liar. Nonetheless, he joins a long line of disreputable characters called before Congress. They are a necessary cost of oversight in some scandals, but Cohen’s record demands more than the usual degree of corroboration. Any oath that Cohen takes at this point will be viewed as a moment worthy of its own laugh track.

Here is the column:

There are a lot of questions awaiting President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, in his scheduled appearance Feb. 7 before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

However, the most immediate question will be whether Cohen’s taking of the oath to testify will be followed by the usual comedic two drums and a cymbal riff. After a long and documented history as a liar and felon, Cohen’s taking of any oath deserves proper musical accompaniment.

Nevertheless, Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., is right to call Cohen to testify. And to their credit, Republicans in the Senate are also considering calling Cohen before he goes off to prison.

Cohen is not the first thoroughly discredited person to testify before Congress. The list ranges from mobster Frank Costello and quiz show fraud Charles Van Doren in the 1950s to drug gouger Martin Shkreli in 2016.

However, even liars can supply details of criminal conduct. Now that Cohen has accused President Trump of involvement in criminal conduct, the American people deserve to hear Cohen’s claims in greater detail. Moreover, the public has the right to see Cohen examined on those details and his own credibility in making these allegations.

Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in August to tax fraud, making false statements to a bank and a campaign finance violation. He said the campaign finance violation involved a payment made during Trump’s presidential campaign to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in return for her agreement not to publicize her allegation that she had an extramarital affair with Trump years earlier.

Cohen said he was directed by Trump to make the payment to Daniels. The president has denied he had an affair with Daniels and denied any wrongdoing regarding the payment.

In addition, Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress about how long negotiations for a Trump Tower project in Moscow went on in 2016. No deal was reached on building the tower.

Cohen is heading to prison as a result of his guilty pleas – but not for as long as he deserves. U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III called Cohen’s history a “veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct” and said “each of the crimes involved deception and each appears to have been motivated by personal greed and ambition.”

New York federal prosecutors denounced Cohen as a manipulating liar with a long history of being a legal thug. Yet Pauley gave Cohen an extremely generous deal of just three years in prison. It was not half of what he deserved, but Cohen has lived his life from one scam to another.

Cohen is likely to try to portray himself now as a redemptive sinner – an act that is almost an affront to sin. For those who have long been critics of his infamous career (and the failure of the New York Bar to take action against him), the act will be as infuriating as it is unbelievable.

Cohen made himself rich victimizing more vulnerable people. In 2015, when Harvard Lampoon staffers played a prank on Trump by having him sit in the stolen “president’s chair” from the Harvard Crimson for a photo and an endorsement, Cohen threatened the students with ruin.

Cohen was quoted by a student on the Harvard Lampoon staff as saying: “I’m gonna come up to Harvard. You’re all gonna get expelled. If this photo gets out, you’ll be outta that school faster than you know it. I can be up there tomorrow.”

While some reporters are actively rehabilitating Cohen now that he is a foe to President Trump, Cohen previously lied to and threatened journalists on behalf of Trump. When former Daily Beast reporter Tim Mak wrote about a biography that included allegations from Trump’s first wife, Ivana, that Trump raped her, Cohen did not hesitate to attack.

In a phone call recorded by Mak, Cohen told the reporter: “You’re talking about Donald Trump, you’re talking about the frontrunner for the GOP, a presidential candidate, as well as private individual, who never raped anybody and, of course, understand that by the very definition you can’t rape your spouse.”

As a matter of law, it is a crime to rape anyone – including a spouse.

Cohen added in the recorded call: “Mark my words for it, I will make sure that you and I meet ne day over in the courthouse and I will take you for every penny you still don’t have, and I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else.”

So why would anyone want to hear anything from a guy who couldn’t lie straight in bed?  Because Trump selected Cohen to be his lawyer and employed him from 2006 until last year. Cohen served as a vice president of The Trump Organization and later as Trump’s personal attorney.

More importantly, Cohen’s allegations concerning the payoffs have some independent corroboration. Hush-money payments were made to Daniels and to another woman alleging an affair with Trump. Other people have reportedly supported the account that the payment to Daniels was made to suppress news that could have hurt Trump’s chances of winning the 2016 presidential election.

Trump picked not just Cohen but Paul Manafort – two of the deepest bottom feeders in the New York-Washington corridor. (Manafort served as chairman of the Trump presidential campaign and was convicted in August of eight charges of tax and bank fraud unrelated to his work on the Trump campaign. He also pleaded guilty in September to two conspiracy charges.)

This is the cost of such poor judgment by Trump regarding the people he has hired.

That does not make the payments a clear criminal act. As I have previously stated, there are strong defenses that Trump can raise over his motivations in the payments. Such a violation would ordinarily be handled as a civil matter with a fine rather than with a criminal charge.

However, that does not mean that the allegations are not serious. Last year, I wrote columns saying that the payoffs represented the greatest threat to this White House and that Trump was facing an existential threat by keeping Cohen as his lawyer.

Obviously, anything Cohen says in his congressional testimony will have to be accepted with an asterisk denoting the sources as a serial liar. However, truth can sometimes be mined from a sinkhole of lies.

Will Cohen testify truthfully before Congress? It’s impossible to say but it would be an exercise of hope over experience.

We need to have that truth. The cost is dealing with disreputable individuals like Cohen. In this case, we might want to proceed under President Reagan’s famous pledge to “trust but verify.” With Cohen, however, I recommend dropping the trust part.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro professor of public Iiterest law at George Washington University and a practicing criminal defense attorney.

122 thoughts on “Trust But Verify: Cohen To Return To Congress In Role Of Reformed Sinner”

  1. It’s Not Just Cohen Lacking Ethics



    Mick Mulvaney was a young businessman and budding politician 11 years ago when he became co-owner of a company that wanted to build a strip mall near a busy intersection in this upscale bedroom community outside Charlotte.

    All that was needed was money.

    The company cobbled together the financing — which included borrowing $1.4 million from a family firm owned by a prominent local businessman named Charles Fonville Sr., according to court records and interviews.

    Eventually, the project fell apart. The mall never got built. And Mulvaney moved on, building a political career as a firebrand fiscal hawk and tea party pioneer in Congress who railed against out-of-control government deficits — eventually rising a few weeks ago to be President Trump’s acting chief of staff.

    Fonville, however, said his company has not received the $2.5 million with interest that he said it is owed. In explaining the debt to a Senate committee during his 2017 confirmation hearing, Mulvaney cast it as a casualty of a bad real estate deal, saying the sum “will go unpaid.”

    Today, their dispute is at the center of a legal battle playing out behind the scenes in South Carolina as Mulvaney guides Trump through a high-stakes budget showdown with congressional Democrats.

    The fight threatens to tarnish Mulvaney’s image as fiscally responsible, just as he has reached the most influential position of his career.

    Edited from: “Old Land Deal Quietly Haunts Mick Mulvaney”.

    This evening’s WASHINGTON POST

    1. RE. ABOVE:

      Tea Party Firebrand, Mick Mulvaney presented himself as hard-nosed fiscal hawk during his time as a South Carolina congressman. Donald Trump then appointed Mulvaney to run the Office of Budget Management and later The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Mulvaney still holds both positions.

      But more recently Mulvaney has functioned as Trump’s Chief Of Staff. Which has given Mulvaney a role in the current government shutdown.

      But now we learn Mulvaney is something of a deadbeat, having walked away from a $2.5 million dollar loan from an elderly local back in South Carolina.

  2. Reading the posts from the willfully ignorant It strikes me that they smell the fear. While JT will have a job at “FOX NEWS” the rest will still be saying BUT….BUT….BUT….Hillary ….Benghazi….BUT….BUT….Obama. The lies have caught up with the right-wing and they can always pull a Dubya Who? With Trump. Sad, just sad. Wake up and smell the COUFEFE.

  3. The Daily Mail is not to be trusted. Similarly for a buncha other Brit tabloids.

    1. good for pictures of jeff bezos girlfriend in bikini. he’s compromised now, she is probably a russian spy and possibly peed on him

    2. The Human Truth Foundation has a web page rating the British newspapers.

      1. Ha you want us to listen to a pompous human rights activist named Vexen Crabtree for “what is truth?”

        here is “hir” idea of a good pronoun:

        I would sooner listen to Pilate for his idea of truth

        thanks but no thanks~ herr doktor sir!

  4. It is long past time for the President to take the same type of bold action that led to the foundation of this once great nation. Six days before the Declaration of Independence, George Washington set the tone, the character and the resolve of a new, aggressively free nation.

    To wit,

    George Washington’s Summary Execution of His Mortal Adversary – Thomas Hickey

    “Thomas Hickey (hanged on June 28, 1776) was a Continental Army soldier in the American Revolutionary War, and the first person executed for “mutiny, sedition, and treachery.” Born in Ireland, he came to America as a soldier in the British Army and fought as personal assistant to Major General William Johnson in the Seven Years’ War, but deserted to the other side when the Revolution broke out. He became part of the Life Guard, which protected General George Washington, his staff, and the Continental Army’s payroll. Hickey was jailed for passing counterfeit money. He was tried and executed for mutiny and sedition, and he may have been involved in an assassination plot against George Washington in 1776.”

    “Washington made a general announcement”:

    “The unhappy fate of Thomas Hickey, executed this day for mutiny, sedition, and treachery, the General hopes will be a warning to every soldier in the Army to avoid those crimes, and all others, so disgraceful to the character of a soldier, and pernicious to his country, whose pay he receives and bread he eats. And in order to avoid those crimes, the most certain method is to keep out of the temptation of them, and particularly to avoid lewd women, who, by the dying confession of this poor criminal, first led him into practices which ended in an untimely and ignominious death.”

    – Wiki

  5. Cohen hasn’t even testified yet, and Turley is trying to discredit him, all in support of one of the least-qualified and most dishonest people ever to occupy the White House. Did it occur to you, Jon, that Cohen just might have recordings of telephone calls and meetings, as well as documents to back up his testimony, or have you and Kellyanne come up with some pivot or cover story for those as well?

    Turley complains about Cohen’s thuggish behavior by film norish threats to various persons intending to publish satirical or unflattering information about Trump, as if it’s all about Cohen being sleazy. Do you think that just, maybe, that’s what Trump, himself a cheap thug, wanted him to do? The same is true of the payoffs that we know about. Who knows what we don’t know about yet? Trump loved having a mouthpiece like Cohen around–a reflection of him and his blowhard, cartoonish threats.

    What I find most amazing about today’s piece is this statement Jon wrote about Cohen: “We need to have that truth. The cost is dealing with disreputable individuals like Cohen.” Who in public office is more disreputable than Trump? What about the truth of Trump’s finances, whom he owes money to, how much is owed and when was it borrowed? We need to have that truth. We need to know what was said in various private meetings between Trump and Putin, and why Trump is trying to hide this information, including confiscating transcripts of interpreters who were present. We already know why Comey was fired– a ham-handed effort to stop Mueller, but why did Trump publicly discount the conclusion of various agencies about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, and his repudiation of the fact that Jamal Khasoggi was the victim of murder by the Saudis. Why did Trump defer to Erdogan and publicly announce that the U.S. was pulling out of Syria because ISIS is defeated (which it isn’t) without even discussing it with Gen. Mattis first? We need the truth of all of these things.

    1. natacha:
      “Cohen hasn’t even testified yet, and Turley is trying to discredit him…”
      Pinocohen didn’t need JT’s help. He did a fine job on his own:

      You snitch
      You bitch..
      and still claim to be saintly..
      It doesn’t work that way.

      ~Parr Winn

  6. I guess someone should defend Cohen.

    He is greedy – fine, but only those on the left consider that a crime.

    he is disreputable, a bully, a pretty bad lawyer, and thugish.

    If that is a crime – I can list many lawyers that are significantly worse that can join him in jail.

    His actions were driven by his own desire for personal enrichment.

    Everyone’s actions are driven by whatever they perceive to be their own self interest.
    A tiny number of us are mother Theresa and see our own benefit in helping others.

    We have to get past this garbage of defining likeability as criminality.

    From the facts that we know of today – it appears Cohen was involved in some machinations over NYC taxi medalions.
    Can we just get government out of this kind of garbage and end such problems.
    Absolutely when we create fictional property such as taxi medalions we are pretty much guaranteeing fraud and corruption.

    Aparently he was involved in some form of tax evasion. I am not sure of the details but I am always dubious of such claims.

    A jury just convicted Paul Manafort of being rich and not dotting his i’s and crossing his T’s.

    Even the government conceeded that Manafort could loan himself money. The claim was that he did not actually loan it.
    The difference between a loan and a gift is paperwork and whether it is ever paid back.
    The entire mess was farcical nonsense.

    Regardless I am always dubious of tax evasion claims – it is always possible for a prosecutor to find a jury somewhere in the country who can be persuaded that someone with lots of money must have evaded taxes.

    Manafort and Cohen are scoundrel’s and Trump’s choice of them does reflect poorly on Trump.
    But name ANY campaign manager that is not a scoundrel ?
    Do you really think that Ploufe, Podesta, Axelrod, ….. could stand up to the same scrutiny ? Or survive infront of a hostile jury ?
    Podesta has millions tied up in Russia – if that is the criteria.

    Everybody is doing it is not that much of a defense. But it is a valid point of attack on those prosecuting all of this.
    Of we are going to clean things up – if we are serious about all of this – then lets actually get serious. Lets clean house.
    Why wasn’t menendez convicted ? He certainly looks slimier than Manafort ?
    Where are the indictments of the Podesta’s ?

    If the law is a club those of one political persuasion use against another – THAT IS CORRUPTION !!! and it is far worse than anything Cohen or Manafort have engaged in.

    Turley properly notes that Cohen is a pretty disreputable person to stand before the house. Not someone who should be trusted.

    Absolutely true!! But exactly the same thing can be said of Clinton, Comey, McCabe, and large parts of the prior administration.

    We can survive myriads of Manaforts and Cohen’s. Private misconduct is inconsequential compared to that of government.

    Based on the EVIDENCE, I see lots of reasons that people should be suing the crap out of Cohen – including Trump.
    But very little good reason he should be headed to jail.

    This entire Daniels mess has NEVER been any business of the law, the courts or prosecutors.

    Absolutely the press can have a field day with it.

    But we should not be criminalizing non-disclosures.

    I am also disturbed because quite honestly – whether it is Cohen or Manafort, or the stupid legal nonsense spouted regarding Trump, I would be shocked if any of this survived with SCOTUS it certainly should not.

    Cohen aparently lied to congress – about something important ?
    Absent an actual underlying crime or some actual link to the election, what exactly does it matter than Cohen continued to try (and fail) to negotiate a Trump Tower Moscow deal ?

    Obviously people should not lie to congress or anyone. I should think that would also include Attorney Generals and FBI directors particularly.
    They should not lie to each other, to congress, to the public to the president, to targets or subjects.

    Even RBG found broad application of false statement charges to be dangerous.

    Question anyone no matter how scrupulous long enough and if you are free to make crimes of small inconsistancies you will manufacture crimes.

    All of this would be more compelling if there was some underlying crime that was established.

    I will be happy to send Cohen to the 9th circle of hell – and Trump along with him, when you connect them to an actual crime.

    Plea bargains are supposed to be real criminals saving the system the effort of a trial in return for some slack.
    They are not supposed to be pleas to anything to avoid being persecuted by prosecutors and bankrupted, to avoid having them go after your friends and family.

    All of this is why an actual consequential underlying crime is important.

    Absent some credible evidence of a real underlying crime – this Russia Collusion nonsense that we are purportedly investigating,
    What we have is proof that driven prosecutors and law enforcement can convict anyone they focus their attention on.

    That is evidence of corruption – but not the corruption of Trump or Flynn or Cohen, but of Obama, and Comey and Mueller.

    This is supposed to be the US not the USSR,

    We used to beleive “bring me the person and I will show you the crime” was evil.

    Now we have our own Berria’s meeting out political justice.

    1. “From the facts that we know of today – it appears Cohen was involved in some machinations over NYC taxi medalions.”

      That is right and everyone knows who controls NYC and NYC corrumption, Democrats.

      “when we create fictional property such as taxi medalions we are pretty much guaranteeing fraud and corruption.”

      How do you think NYC Democrats in politics get rich? The medallion system was a way to make money and create a monopoly.

      “But very little good reason he should be headed to jail.”

      A whole bunch of politicians and people involved in NYC government should end up in jail over these types of things and some have. Cohen probably should end up in jail for fraud.

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