“Sooner or later when you say I love you… You’re gonna realize some of my lies are true.” — Huey Lewis and the News.
It’s an old pre-Sports Lewis tune from 1980, best remembered for its snappy chorus and a cheesy beach-scene video. But if you listened closely during Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony yesterday, you’ve might have heard the song’s whisper from time to time.
Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, presented a lot of information about his old boss, and much of it was unflattering (if not unsurprising). He described Trump as a racist, conman, and cheat, and implicated him in — among other things — hush-money payoffs to porn star Stormy Daniels, having pre-knowledge of WikiLeaks’ release of stolen DNC material, and knowing about the infamous Trump Tower meeting beforehand. Cohen framed Trump as a habitual deceiver, and an aggressor toward anyone who got on his bad side.
In fact, Cohen claimed to have personally threatened somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 people on Trump’s behalf (usually in the form of litigation) in his 10 years of service to the man who now sits in the Oval Office.
Cohen also explained (as several others have over the years) that Trump had never planned on actually becoming President of the United States. He claimed that Trump had “no desire or intention to lead this nation — only to market himself and to build his wealth and power,” and that Trump would often describe the campaign as the “greatest infomercial in political history.”
Again, none of this testimony should have been particularly surprising to those who’ve followed Trump’s public life in and out of politics. But congressional Republicans weren’t going to let Cohen get away with embarrassing the leader of their party. They loudly and repeatedly attacked him on the issue of his credibility (or lack thereof), and they certainly had a lot of ammunition with which to do it.
After all, Cohen is a liar and a sleaze. This goes without dispute. He has already plead guilty to lying to congress, tax evasion, and bank fraud. And he will soon be serving time in prison for his crimes. He’s not an ethical or reliably honest person by any stretch of the imagination, and that’s what made him particularly useful as an unscrupulous, behind-the-scenes fixer for Donald Trump.
Ironically, Cohen’s low character remains of great use to Trump. By surrounding himself with such unsavory individuals over the years, President Trump has — in a way — insulated himself against a number of otherwise credible claims of wrongdoing. All the president has to do is remind folks that the people he paid to be shady and dishonest are both shady and dishonest.
Also ironic was the theme put forth by congressional Republicans during the hearing, as they lambasted Cohen. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake picked up on it:
Just to be clear here on the standards Republicans are setting:
-If someone lies repeatedly, we cannot trust them on anything
-If someone cheats on their spouse, we cannot trust them
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) February 27, 2019
Politics, of course, is not the place to go for self-awareness and intellectual consistency.
But as the hearing continued on, it was the Washington Examiner’s Byron York who recognized a glaring flaw in the Republicans’ strategy — one with ramifications that went beyond mere hypocrisy:
Michael Cohen is knocking down various crazy anti-Trump stories: Prague, money laundering, love child, abortion, elevator tape, other tapes, more. This, after Republicans spent all their time attacking his credibility.
— Byron York (@ByronYork) February 27, 2019
The Republicans probably hadn’t counted on Cohen vindicating Trump on a number of damaging claims put forth by the president’s political opponents. But that’s essentially what he did, as York (who’s often looking out for Trump’s best interests) further described in a subsequent column:
“There have been rumors that Trump paid abortion costs for women with whom he had sexual encounters. Cohen said he knew nothing about that. There have been rumors Trump had a love child. Cohen said he knew nothing about that. There have been rumors Trump took part in money laundering by selling real estate to Russian oligarchs for cash. Cohen said he knew nothing about that. There have been rumors of an elevator tape which purportedly showed Trump striking his wife. Cohen said he knew nothing about that and added that he did not believe it happened. There have been rumors, from the Trump dossier, of a so-called “pee tape.” Cohen said he had no reason to believe it exists. And then there has been one of the biggest rumors of all, the dossier allegation that Cohen traveled to Prague in 2016 to conspire with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Cohen, as he has before, said it did not happen.
In most of the cases, when Cohen said he had no knowledge of something, the answer was not a definitive denial. But dealing with such things was part of Cohen’s job, and if he has no knowledge of them, there is a very good chance they did not happen.”
So, with the Republicans having so brutally attacked Cohen’s credibility, and having effectively framed him as a man who can’t be taken at his word on anything, what are we supposed to believe in regard to his vindications of Trump?
One would think the situation would be a bit of a political quagmire for Republicans, but Republican Congressman Jim Jordan (who assailed Cohen’s lack of credibility perhaps more than anyone during the hearing, and continued to do so on cable news later) begs to differ. Jordan, a reliable Trump defender, spoke with Fox News’s Bret Baier, who pointed out the same discrepancy that York had.
“But you said his credibility is shot, right?” asked Baier, referring to the Cohen statements that were beneficial to Trump.
“Every once in a while, you’ll get some truth from some people,” replied Jordan.
Well there you go, folks. Problem solved. If it’s good for Trump, believe it. If it’s bad for Trump, don’t believe it.
Sadly, this was essentially the same take from much of the conservative-media commentary last night. Anyone tuning into Hannity, for example, would have thought that Trump had just won the Super Bowl.
And unsurprisingly (and just as sadly), the narrative was reversed in the liberal media. A lot of lefties now view Cohen (whom they despised when he was a Trump associate) as a sympathetic and even brave figure. They seem to think his Trump-critical statements should be taken at face value. As for the stuff Cohen said that was helpful to Trump? Well, on those things, Cohen’s not a reliable witness.
“Sooner or later when you say I love you… You’re gonna realize some of my lies are true.”
Huey Lewis had it right. The power of partisan love is a curious thing. Make a one man weep, make another man sing. Wait, that’s a different song altogether.
What exacerbates all of this tribal dopiness is the fact that there really isn’t a good guy at the center of this story. There’s no victim of injustice. Neither side’s player is worthy of the impassioned defenses they’re receiving. Fox News’s Guy Benson summed it up well enough to close this column with his tweet:
This surreal Trump/Cohen dispute is the ultimate slime fight between unreliable narrators.
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) February 27, 2019