The most fascinating thing about the Michael Cohen hearing may not be what Michael Cohen said, but what Republicans didn’t. They made no attempt to defend Donald Trump other than to disparage Cohen’s character with metronomic regularity. Cohen was a liar. A bad man. He enriched himself. But how do you derogate someone who has already confessed to swimming happily in Trump’s swampy waters?
The other tack they pursued was to declare the hearing a circus or a charade. Protestations were profuse. O tempora o mores!
Washington, we were told, is a ‘hellhole.’ (At least Republican lawmakers forbore from deeming it a shithole.) At their most pious they wrung their hands over the fact that Congress wasn’t focusing on far weightier matters such as the national debt — something that the last Republican Congress showed zero interest in tackling, by the way.
The condemnations of Cohen, however, only served to emphasize his stricken state. He did not look well. His sunken sockets underscored how far you can fall when associating yourself with Individual 1. He served up plenty of juicy information, none of it good for Trump, about Wikileaks, Roger Stone, hush money payments and racial comments.
Rhonda Graff, Trump’s personal assistant, must be sweating bullets after Cohen fingered her as someone who could corroborate many of his statements and allegations. Ditto for Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg. Except that they may have already conveyed much of what they learned to special counsel Robert Mueller.
‘I am not protecting Mr Trump anymore,’ said Cohen. Indeed, he could hardly have broken the formerly constringent ties between them more decisively. He suggested that those currently in Trump’s orbit who have succumbed to what he called the ‘intoxicating’ lure of power might find themselves in the same boat. Now that Cohen has jumped ship, others may well follow.
The historian Sam Tanenhaus, who traveled to Washington this week to speak at a conference about rescuing the political center held by the Niskanen Center, a redoubt of NeverTrumpers, reminded me that former New York senator James Buckley, the older brother of William F. Buckley, Jr., was the first conservative Republican senator to demand Richard M. Nixon’s resignation in March 1974. He made national headlines and helped to set Nixon on a glide path out of the White House. It will be interesting to see if there is a new Buckley among the GOP senators or not.
The hearing today suggested that impeachment hearings are well-nigh inevitable. Pressure will mount, as it did in the 1970s, for Republicans to break with Trump. For now they are holding fast. But the Mueller report will play a decisive role in helping to establish whether that remains the case. The Cohen hearing is bound to heighten, not lower, expectations about what it contains.