Michael Cohen in the spotlight

Lynch, Pressley take swings during high-profile hearing

ONE OF THE MOST DRAMATIC episodes in the entire saga of criminality surrounding President Donald Trump played out before a rapt audience on Wednesday as Michael Cohen described his former boss as a racist, cheat, and conman.

Cohen didn’t provide much in the way of revelations, but as a one-time confidant of Trump he did fill in some gaps with lurid detail, recalling how the president allegedly assured him that a reimbursement for a hush money payment to a pornographic actress was on its way while showing Cohen the Oval Office.

Cohen’s payment to the adult entertainer occurred during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and was a criminal violation of election law, the former lawyer acknowledged last August when he pled guilty to federal charges.

Republican members on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform largely ignored the substance of what Cohen said about the president and instead lit into Cohen’s own crimes and credibility as a convicted liar who will begin a three-year prison sentence later this spring.

As Cohen told lawmakers of his remorse for blind loyalty to Trump for more than a decade, the lawmakers attacking him revealed something about their own view of the president’s legal and political situation.

“If you don’t have a defense, you try to put the government on trial,” said William Weinreb, who was an acting US attorney during the Trump administration, in an appearance on Greater Boston. “The Republicans were trying to put [Cohen] on trial.”

Congressman Stephen Lynch, a South Boston Democrat, went a step farther during his five minutes of questioning.

“I don’t think my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are afraid that you’re going to lie,” Lynch said to Cohen. “I think they’re afraid you’re going to tell the truth.”

At The Atlantic, David Frum argues that the Republican committee members steered clear of outright challenges to Cohen’s assertions because they have “learned the hard way never to trust President Donald Trump’s denials.”

One of the accusations that a Republican congressman did attempt to confront head-on was Cohen’s assertion that Trump has demonstrated a racist outlook in private comments about black people – that they are supposedly too stupid to vote for him and are the only people who would be willing to live in a struggling neighborhood of Chicago.

In a move that backfired spectacularly hours later, Congressman Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, called everyone’s attention to Lynne Patton, an African-American woman who has long served Trump and now the Trump administration and who stood behind Meadows during that portion of the hearing.

“She says that as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, that there is no way that she would work for an individual who was racist. How do you reconcile the two of those?” Meadows challenged Cohen.

“As neither should I, as the son of a Holocaust survivor,” Cohen responded.

At almost the conclusion of the hearing, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, a Dorchester Democrat, revisited Meadows’s display in light of many of the other things known about Trump.

“Would you agree that someone could deny rental units to African-Americans, lead the ‘birther’ movement, refer to the diaspora as ‘shithole countries’ and refer to white supremacists as ‘fine people,’ have a black friend and still be racist?” Pressley asked.

“Yes,” Cohen replied.

“I agree,” Pressley said.

Minutes later Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, took it a step further, saying that she believed Meadows’s use of Patton was a racist act, an allegation that spurred Meadows into an emotional defense and appeal to the committee’s chairman.

Former attorney general Martha Coakley, also on Greater Boston last night, said the damage Cohen inflicted against his former client was mostly political, and she and Weinreb both found Cohen a fairly credible witness, notwithstanding the marks against him as a confessed liar.

Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi noted how Cohen defended himself against charges that he is a pathological liar, asking, “Are you referring to me or the president?

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

The whole affair occurred while Trump was on the other side of the globe in Vietnam meeting with someone who is perhaps the most odious figure on the world stage.

Meeting with North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, in an attempt to achieve a nuclear agreement, Trump was none too happy with attention his former lawyer was receiving back in Washington, and four reporters were banned from covering a dinner between Trump and Kim after one of them asked for a reaction to the Cohen testimony.