Not since Watergate has a former confidant — once so close to the president of the United States — turned so completely against his former boss. Yesterday, before the House Oversight Committee, Michael Cohen publicly claimed President Trump had broken the law while in office, ran a business and campaign fueled on deceit and knew more about Russian contacts than Trump has let on.
And Cohen, who is headed to jail in May for campaign finance violations, told the Committee that he appeared before them as warning to the nation.
"This destruction of our civility to one another is just out of control. And when he goes on Twitter and he starts bringing in my in-laws, my parents, my wife, what does he think is going to happen?" Cohen said. "He is sending the same message that he can do what he wants. This is his country. He is becoming an autocrat."
A dire warning that beggared belief in the ears of the president’s supporters, given that Cohen had previously appeared before Congress and lied — a fact GOP committee members, such as Arizona’s Paul Gosar, hammered away at again and again, calling Cohen "a pathological liar" that doesn't "know truth from falsehood."
It was a day for political theater, to play to the court of public opinion. But it was also a day where the public got an intimate look at President Trump’s campaign, business and where federal investigations into both may be headed.
Thursday, On Point, we heard from someone on the House Oversight Committee, who was there questioning Cohen on Capitol Hill.
Here's what Rep. Jamie Raskin, Democratic congressman from Maryland, had to say.
On the most important things to come out of Wednesday's testimony
"There is this poignant human reality behind it, which came through so strongly with Michael Cohen's testimony. I mean he's basically like someone who has left an organized crime family, who's facing all kinds of reprisals and intimidation and harassment, but he feels emancipated and unburdened and free. And, meantime, my Republican colleagues just harassed him the whole day as a liar, not bothering to point out that he had lied for the president of the United States at his direction, his orders. So, as I said, they weren't upset because he had lied to Congress. They were upset because he stopped lying to Congress and he started telling the truth. And that is simply not consistent with the rules and the protocols of this organized crime family, which is now dominating the White House. And I think he called him a racist and a cheat and a liar, and I think he proved it with documentation as well as with his own statements. But everything he said basically corroborated what anybody can tell just by watching the operations of the White House. None of that tells us what exactly we need to do now. But it did open up very fruitful lines of inquiry in terms of the specific things we need to further investigate."
On Cohen's statement that he has no evidence of Russian collusion
"Michael Cohen told the truth all day long, and it amazed and astonished our president who has created a culture of propaganda and deceit and deception in the White House, and that basically, as Michael Cohen described it, becomes the job of anybody who goes to work there — it's to lie for the president, to lie about his business dealings, about the insurance fraud, about the tax fraud, to lie about relationships with Russia, as Michael Cohen is going to jail for now. And one of the things that came out yesterday was that his testimony had been reviewed and edited and doctored by the president's lawyers. Jay Sekulow was the one that Michael Cohen mentioned yesterday, so we're clearly going to have to pursue that, and essentially had to lie about the whole operation. But what I took from it is that we have we have a profound and historic problem because we have a guy who sits at the top of the executive branch of government who has turned the government of the United States into a moneymaking operation for himself and his family and his friends."
"None of that tells us what exactly we need to do now. But it did open up very fruitful lines of inquiry in terms of the specific things we need to further investigate."Rep. Jamie Raskin
On what the House Oversight Committee might do next in terms of subpoena power
"That is a complicated question just because we have to coordinate with the work of other committees, which also have a profound interest in the president's tax returns. But they will be obtained by certainly a committee in Congress if not several committees in Congress. But, yes, we will deploy the subpoena power and our basic problem is that after two years of absolutely supine and cavalier supervision or collusion of the Republicans with the Trump White House — it's like coming upon the scene of an 88-car pile up on the highway. I mean there are so many things that we have to deal with in terms of oversight, at the same time that we stay on offense in terms of the public agenda. Yesterday, we did pass the universal criminal background check to close the gun show loophole and the private sale loophole and the internet loophole. And that, too, ties into all of this because the NRA, of course, has been a critical money actor and political actor in the Trump White House operation. But we're making progress against all of these drags on the rule of law and democracy."
More on the specific question of tax returns
"I don't think we know exactly when. But every president in the last six or seven presidents has turned over his tax returns, and it's absolutely within the public interest, and more than 85 percent of the American people support the president turning over his tax returns, and we need to know. We need to know because of the relationship with the oligarchs and the Russian mob, and we need to know because of the emoluments clause, which says that the president cannot be collecting money from foreign governments and foreign actors at the behest of foreign governments. There's so much information that's in there. There's obviously a reason the president doesn't want us to see it. And that's why we must see it."
On the "catch and kill" stories
"We know that there were campaign finance violations conducted by Michael Cohen and Donald Trump in order to cover up these sexual affairs, and so money was directed as illegal campaign contributions and unreported campaign expenditures to the various mistresses. But yesterday we also learned from Michael Cohen that there — beyond the sexual affairs — there were other instances of catch and kill where there were other damaging stories that people were about to come out with which were caught and killed by David Pecker and AMI, which is the parent company to the National Enquirer. In other words, they paid people for their stories in order to silence them. I think we need to know what were those stories that were paid for? What were the instances corruption and criminality that were being covered up? And I think Cohen referred to a treasure trove of them which existed in David Pecker's possession. He said, 'You should get a hold of the treasure trove.' "
"There's so much information that's in there. There's obviously a reason the president doesn't want us to see it. And that's why we must see it."Rep. Jamie Raskin on Trump's tax returns
On the question of impeachment
"We have a constitutional oversight function that goes beyond impeachment. Impeachment is the people's instrument of democratic self-defense against a president who is acting like a king. I think we know enough to know that Trump has arrogated to himself lots of unlawful powers in order to make money and get rich. The question of whether that's enough to impeach is a separate question. Certainly, on the Republican standard, they impeached Bill Clinton for telling one lie about sex. This president has done a lot more than that. But I think we're held to a higher standard. We want to ask the question of whether there were high crimes and misdemeanors which actually undermine the integrity of the republic, and that's a tough standard. But it's one that we are not going to run away from."
Alex Schroeder adapted this interview for the web.