Republicans committed the classic cross-examination blunder with Cohen

House Republicans needed a trial lawyer—or even a moderately bright junior-high mock-trial participant—to tell them how to do anything. Cross-examination is hard. It’s not just barking at the witness. It takes meticulous planning and patience. Republicans could have marshaled Cohen’s many sins of the past to undermine his statements today. Instead they returned repeatedly to lies and misdeeds he’d already admitted, wallowed in silly trivialities like the “Women for Cohen” Twitter account, and yelled. The effect was to make an unsympathetic man modestly more sympathetic. Republicans committed the classic cross-examination blunder: They gave the witness the opportunity to further explain his harmful direct testimony. They provided Cohen with one slow pitch up the middle after another, letting him repeat the cooperating witness’s go-to explanation like a mantra: I did these bad things so often and so long because that’s what it took to work for your guy. I have seldom seen a cross-examination go worse…

Team Trump should be worried. Republicans did not successfully destroy Cohen’s credibility. Cohen, while characteristically squirrelly on some subjects, did not exude his customary arrogance.In fact, he probably gained credibility by limiting his accusations—he passed up numerous opportunities to make expansive claims about collusion or salacious ones about sex tapes, focusing instead on relatively narrow allegations. Democrats didn’t help him, but they signaled that they were willing to conduct further investigations based on his word.

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