Thus far, the Michael Cohen Act has played out as expected. Democrats want to put every sordid Cohen claim about Donald Trump’s character on public display, while Republicans put Cohen’s character front and center. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) took a direct attack on Cohen’s motivations for turning on Trump, accusing Cohen of score-settling over getting left out of the White House. Cohen’s denial might create even more problems for his testimony — if not his legal status:
JORDAN: How long did you work in the White House?
COHEN: I never worked in the White House.
JORDAN: That’s the point, isn’t it, Mr. Cohen?
COHEN: No sir.
JORDAN: Yes it is.
COHEN: No it’s not, sir.
JORDAN: You wanted to work in the White House —
COHEN: No sir.
JORDAN: — you didn’t get brought to the dance. Now —
COHEN: I was extremely proud to be personal attorney to the president of the United States of America. I did not want to go to the White House. I was offered jobs — I can tell you a story of Mr. Trump reaming out Reince Priebus because I had not taken a job where Mr. Trump wanted me to, which was working with Don McGahn at the White House general counsel’s office.
Cohen goes on to explain that he didn’t take that job because it would have eliminated the attorney-client privilege on his other work for Trump. Jordan fires back that he’s just like everyone else fired by Trump, such as Andrew McCabe and James Comey, badmouthing Trump to settle personal scores “after you didn’t get the thing you want.” Cohen says, “I got exactly what I wanted.”
Is that true, however? A number of people close to the White House erupted that Cohen lied in this exchange. Eric Trump and his brother Don Jr both immediately claimed on Twitter that Cohen lobbied hard to get the job that Priebus eventually got as White House chief of staff. Washington Post reporter Mike Madden found his curiosity piqued at this turn of events (via Twitchy):
It WOULD be pretty amazing if the White House produced emails proving this is true and Cohen's whole plea agreement winds up getting voided because he lied to Congress just now about not wanting to work there. https://t.co/QWXocQXGhW
— Mike Madden (@MikeMadden) February 27, 2019
No doubt the White House has interns working overtime for such evidence, if it exists. Jordan didn’t just pull this out of thin air, though. Last year, Lachlan Markay reported for The Daily Beast that Cohen had been bragging about getting that position after the election, which is why he left the Trump Organization at that time:
That it took this long for Trump’s fixer to show signs of inching away from the president, speaks to the extent of his loyalty. The Trump era, after all, hasn’t been too kind to Cohen.
He had left his senior position at the Trump Organization shortly after the election, expecting a coveted appointment in the new administration (he had told friends that he even expected to be named chief of staff), only to see President Trump pass him over for any White House post. Since the presidential campaign, Cohen routinely saw himself on the losing end of bitter feuds between himself and other Trump associates, including former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who received the kind of treatment and favor from Trump that Cohen had craved. And the “shadow lobbying” that Cohen engaged in, in his effort to profit off of the Trump era and his relationship with the president, blew up in his face and is one of the reasons he landed in hot water with the feds.
It’s also not Cohen’s first or even second ride on the fabulism pony:
Cohen rode Trump’s coattails to prominence and recognition in GOP circles, even though he wasn’t actually a Republican until early 2017. His closeness to Trump earned Cohen a spot on the Republican National Committee’s finance leadership team shortly after the inauguration. In late March, Cohen bragged that he’d raised $500,000 for the party in a single day.
In reality, those with knowledge of the RNC’s fundraising apparatus say Cohen’s position was largely ceremonial, and that his actual fundraising hauls were minimal. Essentially, he wasn’t a significant player at the RNC, and was offered the gig merely because of his association with Trump. He has since resigned from the finance post.
CNN’s Dana Bash and Jake Tapper weren’t buying it either. Bash flagged this exchange as “a potential problem” for Cohen, and Tapper responded by saying that he knew it was false:
CNN: Cohen isn't telling the truth when he said under questioning by Jim Jordan that he didn't want a job in the White House.
Dana Bash: "He very much wanted a job in the White House." pic.twitter.com/DK9VevYqIS
— David Rutz (@DavidRutz) February 27, 2019
The Wall Street Journal also heard the same thing last April:
In the months before the election, when Mr. Trump reshuffled his campaign for a third time and named Steve Bannon as campaign chief, Mr. Cohen told associates he had expected to be tapped for the role, according to people familiar with the matter. He also told people at the time he expected to be named White House chief of staff, people familiar with the matter said.
Mr. Trump decided that bringing Mr. Cohen inside the White House carried too many risks, according to people familiar with the discussions. Mr. Trump privately has described Mr. Cohen as a “bull in a china shop,” who when brought in to fix a problem sometimes breaks more china, according to a person close to the president.
On Jan. 5, 2017, two weeks before the inauguration, Mr. Cohen, camped in his cluttered office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, a few doors away from the president-elect, still didn’t know what his future role would be. …
About a week later, Mr. Cohen had grown more frustrated. He still hadn’t solidified his role. “I still don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, whether I need to stay here for a while or go to D.C.,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s crazy we’re talking about this three, four days before which everybody starts heading down and I have no idea.”
Does that sound as though Cohen was a man who “got exactly what I wanted”?
That doesn’t prove perjury, not unless the House committee asks people with that knowledge to testify under oath. The chances of chair Elijah Cummings making that move are about as good as him sponsoring a congressional commendation for Trump, which is to say slim to none. Without a complaint from the committee, the US attorney isn’t going to get involved, especially since he’d have to prove both intent and materiality — just to get a slightly longer sentence for Cohen. That’s only slightly more likely than Cummings allowing the Republicans on the committee to get a new perjury charge against Cohen on the record.
It’s still enough to paint Cohen as a liar today as well as before. That makes Jordan’s initial point about Democrats calling Cohen even stronger. Since when do people make convicted perjurers (not ‘purgers’, CBS!) their star witness for anything?
"Certainly it's the first time a convicted purger has been brought back to be a star witness in a hearing," Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) slams Cummings for Cohen hearing. "And there is the reason this is the a first, because no other committee would do it." https://t.co/4McXejykRV pic.twitter.com/VhHLuoWsEi
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 27, 2019