Cohen Provides A Roadmap

[ Posted Thursday, February 28th, 2019 – 16:47 UTC ]

After yesterday's testimony before a House oversight committee, Michael Cohen is now being spoken of by some as "Trump's John Dean." This may be overstating the case a bit, but there certainly are parallels. Dean was a lawyer who flipped on Richard Nixon and worked with the prosecution and the Senate committee which was investigating Watergate, but Dean was a central figure in that scandal and held important jobs in the Nixon administration. Cohen is central to the hush money payoffs to Stormy Daniels, but by his own testimony was much more of a peripheral figure to the larger scandals facing Donald Trump right now. But just as Dean did in the Watergate investigation, Cohen may have provided an excellent roadmap indicating the direction congressional investigators should now take when it comes to exposing Trump's shadiness.

From Wikipedia's John Dean entry:

Dean was the first administration official to accuse Nixon of direct involvement with Watergate and the resulting cover-up in press interviews. Such testimony against Nixon, while damaging to the president's credibility, had little impact legally, as it was merely his word against Nixon's. Nixon vigorously denied all accusations against him that he had authorized a cover-up, and Dean had no corroboration beyond various notes he had taken in his meetings with the president. It was not until information about secret White House tape recordings having been made by President Nixon (disclosed in testimony by Alexander Butterfield, on July 16, 1973) and the tapes having been subpoenaed and analyzed that many of Dean's accusations were largely substantiated. Earlier, Dean had had suspicions that Nixon was taping conversations, but had not known this for sure, and he tipped prosecutors to ask witnesses questions along this line, leading to Butterfield's revelations.

In ironic contrast, Cohen was the one inside the Trump universe making tapes. But note that bit about: "he tipped prosecutors to ask witnesses questions along this line," because the revelation about the tapes was truly the key to unravelling both the Watergate crime and Nixon's entire presidency. John Dean provided that key, or at least drew attention to that key's existence. If the tapes had never been uncovered, Nixon probably wouldn't have resigned.

Which is why the most revelatory thing from yesterday's hearing was likely all the people Cohen indicated should be investigated further if Congress is serious about uncovering what really happened -- on all sorts of subjects. Like Dean, Cohen is providing clear instruction to the investigators as to who they should really question next, and what they should be asked about.

Congressional hearings are always less structured and direct than a courtroom setting with a single prosecutor. Each committee member has only five minutes to ask questions, and many of them squander their time without finding out a thing. Sometimes this is by design -- when a congressman just makes a speech to get a certain point on the record, often without even asking the witness a single question -- but sometimes it is just the incompetence of the questioners. There is no requirement that any member of Congress have prosecutorial experience, after all, and it shows.

However, a few of the Democrats on the committee did use their time to good effect. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one of the best of these yesterday, although she wasn't the only one who actually asked Cohen: "Who should we talk to in order to find out the truth of the matter?" or, more pointedly: "Would examining Donald Trump's tax returns shed some light on this issue?" Cohen's testimony was limited to what he personally knew, but even on the subjects where he wasn't central to what was really going on, Cohen at least knew all of the players and could finger the next logical witness.

None of this came as much of a surprise, but it was refreshing to get it all on the record. Cohen named executives at the Trump Organization and the National Enquirer and some others, who were already the obvious choices for relevant testimony for the various possible crimes Trump may have committed. Some of these people have already flipped on Trump and have been singing to Bob Mueller for months now. So the next steps the committee should take may have to wait until Mueller is done, otherwise they'll be constrained in what they can talk about to the committee.

The most obvious candidate for upcoming testimony is the Trump Organization C.F.O., Allen Weisselberg. He's already cooperating with Mueller, and he has direct knowledge of the entire money trail. He signed all the checks, or he's at least aware of all the payments the company made even when Trump or his kids actually signed the check. He should have full knowledge of any tax avoidance schemes (or criminal activity) that Trump or his company was involved in. He knew all about the hush money payoffs -- both the ones we've heard about and the multiple others that have yet to fully come to light. He's been Trump's accountant for a very long time, and given the multiple questions about Trump's finances that have already arisen, he may wind up being the most valuable witness against Trump.

Michael Cohen's testimony yesterday was an extraordinary event. He didn't break a whole lot of new ground, and some of the new ground he did break was actually exculpatory for Trump (like Cohen insisting that Trump never could have struck Melania while in an elevator). He wasn't central to whatever was going on with Russia, outside of the deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. He wasn't a member of the campaign, and he never held an official job in the White House. He may have revealed (or be revealing, today) further information in closed-door congressional hearings, of course, and even in open testimony yesterday Cohen refused to answer questions about many subjects which are still under investigation, either by Bob Mueller or the Southern District of New York. So there are definitely other shoes still left to drop.

But Cohen's testimony was an important opening chapter into the public investigation of Donald Trump by the Democratic House of Representatives. Cohen showed, at the very least, where the investigation will be heading next. He provided a roadmap to the investigators. Whether that leads to a revelation on the scale of the Nixon tapes has yet to be determined. Cohen may eventually merit the label of "Trump's John Dean," in other words, even if he doesn't quite rise to that level yet.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


17 Comments on “Cohen Provides A Roadmap”

  1. [1] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:
  2. [2] 
    Paula wrote:

    But Cohen's testimony was an important opening chapter into the public investigation of Donald Trump by the Democratic House of Representatives. Cohen showed, at the very least, where the investigation will be heading next. He provided a roadmap to the investigators.


    We don't know what Mueller will deliver or when so in the meantime hearings like we saw yesterday contribute to death by a thousand cuts for Blotus and maybe the repubs.

    There's a lot of chatter about how we're all so inured to his lies and crimes that nothing short of direct evidence he got a check signed by Putin to commit treason will bring him down. Certainly if the GOP can get away with it that's what will happen. But when the hearings are public and the Repubs are ludicrous and obviously obstructing damage does ensue.

    I've just read that Going-to-Save-Us-All-(not)-General Kelly was pressured by Blotus to give Jared Kushner top-secret clearance. Kelly didn't want to do it and wrote memos, but gave in. But this coming out is more trouble for Blotus.

    Anyone remember the movie of the week from the 70's called Crowhaven Farm? Always wished I hadn't watched it coz I've never shook off the image it ended with which was of an accused witch being pressed to death - laying under a board on which townspeople stacked a mountain of stones, one at a time. Ick.

    But that image came to mind today - DJT under a board on which scandal after scandal, lawsuit after lawsuit etc. gets stacked.

    All this should have commenced in 2015 so it's a long time coming but at least now Congressional Dems are unleashed and the broader public may start to get details about things many of us political junkies have been aware of for a long time.

  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    OK, also just answered Tuesday's comments as well, just for everyone's edification...


  4. [4] 
    TheStig wrote:
  5. [5] 
    TheStig wrote:

    How classic is Jim "The Champaign County Dandy" Jordan's gerrywhatsit?

    I present for your consideration the father of all gerrymanders circa 1812:

  6. [6] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Fun fact: Jim Jordan, Butter Won't Melt in My Mouth Freedom Caucus member, and college wrestling champion is currently wrestling with his extremely close proximity to a lurid Ohio child sexual abuse scandal.

    Where was David Pecker on this? Hah!

    Just when you think Washington Politics can't possibly get any smellier, the coupling in the sewage line breaks and The National Basement is flooded again.

  7. [7] 
    Kick wrote:

    I'm certainly hopeful that Mr. Weisselberg is prepared to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It would be a shame if "Executive 1" perjured himself in the same fashion as "Executive 2."

    Isn't it interesting how Number 2 and the GOP keep whining about "lying liars" while worshipping at the altar of PT? With the collection of Trump's "best people" who have plead guilty and gone to prison, are headed to prison, or are currently located in prison, you'd think the MAGAts and minions might finally figure out that they all have something in common in that they each lied and committed a felony for and at the instruction of PT. But, alas, connecting the dots isn't exactly their strong suit. :)

  8. [8] 
    Paula wrote:

    Nice discussion of Cummings stirring conclusion to the day - emphasizing the redemption part.

  9. [9] 
    Paula wrote:


    What it means is that eliminating the filibuster has to be part of this cycle's discussion, in the presidential and Senate races. Thus far, the declared presidential candidates who've weighed in on it are Sen. Elizabeth Warren ("all options are on the table"); Kamala Harris (the issue is a "difficult one and I actually am conflicted"); Sen. Bernie Sanders ("not crazy about getting rid of the filibuster"); Gov. Jay Inslee ("the time for the filibuster has come and gone"); Sen. Cory Booker ("We should not be doing anything to mess with the strength of the filibuster"); and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ("I just want to think long and hard about it"). Sen. Amy Klobuchar has also declared and signed on to a letter in 2017 to Senate leadership saying that the legislative filibuster must be preserved. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is still a potential presidential candidate, also signed on to that letter.

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    What about this? You have no comment?

  11. [11] 
    Paula wrote:

    [10] Elizabeth: Should have started with title of piece I linked to: Democrats have to acknowledge a 2020 reality—the Senate filibuster has to go

    and noted that I agree with it.

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I'm a little confused by the filibuster versus the need or lack of need for 60 votes. Are they one and the same.

    I understand that the filibuster and the need for sixty votes is a kind of protection for the minority party. But, if the minority party is advocating for policies and legislation that have wide public appeal, then why would they need that protection?

  13. [13] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    Love this...
    "Meanwhile, Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) unveiled a bill on Friday titled the JARED (Judgment And Responsibility in Executing Determinations) Security Clearance Act, which would require notification to Congress if relatives or financial associates of the president receive security clearances against the recommendation of intelligence officials. It would also revoke Kushner's clearance and that of anyone else in a similar situation."

    The Hill...

    I chortled aloud.


  14. [14] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    12...The filibuster is for the minority to use to time-waste the majority's bill vote, I'm guessing the bill [in question] dies on the vine, having never being voted upon within its time parameters.

    I could be wrong, but I refuse to google it, in the event I start receiving ads for Ted Cruz Aftershave or Rand Paul 'Do-it-yourself' fence kits.



  15. [15] 
    Paula wrote:

    [12] Liz: here's a good rundown - not too long:

    The quick and dirty: "filibuster" refers to several tactics that are used to delay or block either debate about or voting on legislation. For different types of activities different vote thresholds apply - sometimes simple majority (51 votes), sometimes 60 votes, sometimes 67 votes.

    The orig idea was that filibusters can enable the minority to slow things down and force the majority to at least consider minority concerns. Due to the escalating partisan rancor that has characterized U.S. politics in the last few decades - which I maintain has been almost entirely emanating from the GOP side, especially since the despicable Newt Gingrich era - filibusters have been used to obstruct Democratic initiatives, regardless of how popular they are with the public or how desperately needed they are.

    As such filibuster tactics have outlived their usefulness in that they aren't promoting bipartisanship but are instead allowing bad faith senators to block whatever they want to block for malicious reasons. And these are rules invented by the Senate - they aren't in the Constitution and they can be altered/abolished.

    The piece I linked to offers several approaches for adjustments to the rules re: filibusters. I don't know enough to have an opinion on the best approach - but I believe some adjustments must be made or we will be unable to address crying needs in this country.

  16. [16] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Thanks for the info, Paula.

    filibusters have been used to obstruct Democratic initiatives, regardless of how popular they are with the public or how desperately needed they are.

    I became very aware of that during the Obama/Biden administration when congressional Republicans gave obstruction whole new meaning.

    However, I apportion much of the blame for that on Obama/Biden for not effectively communicating their message.

    Given the state of affairs, I agree with you about the need to reconsider the filibuster and/or the need for a 60 vote threshold. If the minority party can't advocate effectively enough for their initiatives, then they must suffer the consequences.

    A good example: the Republicans could not repeal Obamacare despite their majority.

  17. [17] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Let's hope Chris will consider this a good subject for a future column ...

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