Well, lots of people have suspicions. We have an entire industry dedicated to suspicions about the Russia-collusion hypothesis. Does the man who served as Donald Trump’s legal “body man” have any specific evidence to give the House Oversight Committee to prove it true, or even advance the story? Judging from Michael Cohen’s written statement … no, not really.
Here’s the only relevant part of the written statement to the committee’s primary interest:
Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not. I want to be clear. But, I have my suspicions.
Sometime in the summer of 2017, I read all over the media that there had been a meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 involving Don Jr. and others from the campaign with Russians, including a representative of the Russian government, and an email setting up the meeting with the subject line, “Dirt on Hillary Clinton.” Something clicked in my mind. I remember being in the room with Mr. Trump, probably in early June 2016, when something peculiar happened. Don Jr. came into the room and walked behind his father’s desk – which in itself was unusual. People didn’t just walk behind Mr. Trump’s desk to talk to him. I recalled Don Jr. leaning over to his father and speaking in a low voice, which I could clearly hear, and saying: “The meeting is all set.” I remember Mr. Trump saying, “Ok good…let me know.”
What struck me as I looked back and thought about that exchange between Don Jr. and his father was, first, that Mr. Trump had frequently told me and others that his son Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world. And also, that Don Jr. would never set up any meeting of any significance alone – and certainly not without checking with his father.
I also knew that nothing went on in Trump world, especially the campaign, without Mr. Trump’s knowledge and approval. So, I concluded that Don Jr. was referring to that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting about dirt on Hillary with the Russian representative when he walked behind his dad’s desk that day — and that Mr. Trump knew that was the meeting Don Jr. was talking about when he said, “That’s good…let me know.”
This certainly solves one mystery, but likely not the one Democrats wanted. It makes clear why Robert Mueller had little interest in Cohen, booting him to the Southern District of New York early in the probe. Cohen’s not kidding when he says he has “no evidence” if this half-baked recalled memory is the best he can do on Russia collusion. Testimony like this wouldn’t get laughed out of court; it wouldn’t make it through the door in the first place. It’s useless and baseless speculation, which makes it equivalent to much of what the Suspicion Industry has produced thus far.
Let’s parse this out. Sometime a year later, Cohen remembers Don Jr telling his father that “the meeting is all set” at some time the previous summer, “probably” in early June before the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya. Maybe Cohen remembers that correctly, although Don Jr also helps run the family business and presumably takes a lot of meetings. As “nothing went on in Trump world … without Mr. Trump’s knowledge and approval,” that might have been a reference to any number of meetings. Cohen even frames this in light of Don Jr’s incompetence requiring his father’s close supervision (which the Trump Tower episode tends to confirm anyway). None of this “struck” him as odd until, apparently, Cohen had incentives to start thinking of things in that way. Not to mention, although I will, that Cohen’s a convicted perjurer.
If that’s all Michael Cohen has to give on the Russia-collusion hypothesis, then one can scratch off yet another potential conduit for that conspiracy theory. Who’s left in Trump’s inner circle as the middleman for the hypothesis to work? Trump trusted Cohen to do his dirty work for years, and yet Cohen’s got nothing but this ephemeral speculative memory. Mueller threw the book at Manafort but never connected him to any Russia-collusion efforts. Roger Stone might have told Trump that Wikileaks had dirt on Hillary Clinton, but why would Trump need Stone to pass that gossip along if Trump was colluding to get it from Russia? For that matter, why would he need Wikileaks?
While the rest of Cohen’s statement might be of interest to Oversight, the two intelligence committees will find Cohen a waste of time, at least based on this opening salvo. That would put them on par with Robert Mueller and his team, who managed to learn that lesson a hell of a lot more quickly than Congress has.