Michael Cohen – President Trump’s former personal attorney – is spending three days testifying before congressional committees this week, making a series of accusations against his former client. But with his long record of lying again and again, why should anyone believe a word Cohen says regarding Trump or anything else?
Cohen, after all, is scheduled to begin a three-year prison sentence in May after pleading guilty to lying to the Internal Revenue Services about the taxes he owed, lying to financial institutions and lying to Congress.
And the New York Post reported Tuesday that the lying lawyer has been disbarred in New York state.
Cohen testified behind closed doors Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. But on Wednesday he’ll get maximum TV exposure for his unproven allegations against the president when he testifies before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. That will be followed by another day of closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
“I really appreciate the opportunity that was given to me to clear the record and to tell the truth,” Cohen said in brief comments to reporters Tuesday. “And I look forward to tomorrow, to being able to, in my voice, to tell the American people my story, and I’m going to let the American people decide exactly who’s telling the truth.”
But in deciding if Cohen is telling the truth now, it’s impossible to ignore his failure to tell the truth in the past.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stated the obvious Tuesday when she said: “It’s laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word and pathetic to see him given another opportunity to spread his lies.”
It turns out Cohen secretly recorded phone calls with Trump – hardly ethical behavior for a lawyer dealing with a client. And he has spent dozens of hours talking with federal prosecutors in New York City and from the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller about his own crimes and making allegations of wrongdoing by President Trump.
Lawyers are supposed to respect the attorney-client privilege of confidentially regarding their communications with their clients. But by turning on President Trump and disclosing their communications and alleged communications, Cohen has shown he has as much regard for upholding the privilege as he has for telling the truth.
House Democrats are relying on Cohen to help them fulfill their campaign promises to aggressively investigate the president’s activities in the private sector, in his personal life and in government.
Cohen said in 2017 that he would “take a bullet” to protect Trump – still another lie. Back then, he was demonized by the anti-Trump crowd. But now he’s been embraced by many of his former critics for making all sort of charges against Trump, who provided him with a paycheck for 12 years until they parted ways last year.
House Democrats are relying on Cohen to help them fulfill their campaign promises to aggressively investigate the president’s activities in the private sector, in his personal life and in government. But relying on Cohen to get to the truth raises the question if Democrats are more interested in digging up dirt on the president than digging up the facts.
Can we really expect a “full and credible” account from Michael Cohen? Or will his testimony be just another piece in what acting U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami of the Southern District of New York called Cohen’s “pattern of deception,” designed to make himself look good and to shift blame for his misdeeds onto the president?
Khuzami has described Cohen as someone who “repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends.” Cohen’s illegal conduct was “marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life” and he engaged in “extensive, deliberate, and serious criminal conduct,” according to Khuzami.
Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court to willful tax evasion, false statements to financial institutions, illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements to Congress. Khuzami noted that all of the crimes bore a “common set of characteristics.” Each involved “deception” that was “motivated by personal greed and ambition.”
In his testimony Cohen will swear an oath to tell the truth. But he previously swore – falsely and repeatedly – that the tax returns he submitted to the IRS were “true and accurate.”
Khuzami faulted Cohen for his submissions to prosecutors in which Cohen “repeatedly attempted to minimize the seriousness of his decision not to report millions of dollars of income over a period of years by blaming his accountant” – assertions that prosecutors said “are simply false.”
Do we have any reason to expect Cohen to change his stripes in his testimony before Congress?
Cohen didn’t lie to just the IRS and prosecutors. Khuzami’s sentencing memorandum noted that Cohen told “numerous financial institutions” a “long-series of self-serving lies” about his assets and liabilities.
Well, at least Cohen’s behavior is consistent!
Cohen previously lied to Congress about a real estate deal in Russia that the Trump organization had been negotiating for 30 years. Nothing about the deal itself was unlawful, but Cohen’s ham-handed lies seemed intended to minimize the fact that he was still discussing this deal during the first half of 2016.
Now that the House Oversight Committee is run by Democrats, Cohen has every incentive to shift the blame for this potentially embarrassing deal to President Trump. He probably has little fear that Democrats will want to see him prosecuted for misrepresenting what happened – as long as his testimony advances the narrative that Donald Trump is guilty of something.
This is because congressional Democrats aren’t really interested in Michael Cohen. They’re interested in using Michael Cohen to make accusations of wrongdoing against President Trump.
There’s no doubt that Cohen will be asked about the hush-money payments he made to two women in exchange for not making public their unproven allegations – denied by Trump – of extramarital affairs that supposedly occurred many years before Trump ran for president.
Cohen pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws by making these payments. But as I have explained before, many campaign finance experts and former members of the Federal Election Commission do not believe that the payments actually broke any federal law.
As a former member of the Federal Elections Commission and an attorney who has worked extensively on election law issues I share this view.
Yet even in arranging the payments to the two women, the sentencing memorandum notes, Cohen “used sophisticated tactics to conceal his misconduct.” And when news stories about the payments began to surface, the sentencing memorandum says Cohen responded by telling “shifting and misleading stories.”
If members of the House Oversight Committee want to know why Michael Cohen has embraced a “pattern of deception” they should be sure to read the last part of the sentencing memorandum. Khuzami says Cohen’s behavior was driven by “his own ambition and greed.”
Originally, Cohen expected to be “given a prominent role and title in the new (Trump) administration,” according to the sentencing memorandum. When that didn’t materialize, he “successfully convinced numerous major corporations to retain him as a ‘consultant’ who could provide unique insights about and access to the new administration.”
That turned out to be a lie as well. Khuzami notes that although Cohen made more than $4 million as a consultant, he provided “little or no real services.”
The sentencing memorandum adds this kicker: Cohen “undertook similar acts of deception in his private life.”
Khuzami summed it up this way: “Cohen’s consciousness of wrongdoing is fleeting … his remorse is minimal, and … his instinct to blame others is strong.”
And now we are about to see Cohen on national television, so millions of Americans can hear him attack the president of the United States.
Cohen has zero credibility. Anything he says – under oath or in casual conversation – should be treated with extreme skepticism, at best.