• Collateral Damage from Cohen's Testimony
• Takeaways from the Cohen Hearings
• The View from the Right
• Summit Ends with a Thud
• O'Rourke's Plans Come Into Focus
For years, John Dean loyally served Richard Nixon. But in the end, he flipped and testified before Congress that the Watergate coverup was a "cancer growing on the presidency." That was the beginning of the end for Nixon, even though he managed to hang on for another year. Ten years from now, people may look back on yesterday as Michael Cohen's "John Dean" moment, when a man who once said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump called him (under oath) a racist, a con man, and a cheat.
The hearing before the House Oversight Committee yesterday and Cohen's testimony was high drama, even if much of it was more heavily scripted than a championship wrestling match. Some stories are so big, and have such potential to echo for months or years thereafter, that we give most or all of the day's posting over to them. This is one of those days, so buckle your seatbelts and get ready for a generous helping of Cohen coverage (we will also push our usual Thursday Q&A to Friday). Anyhow, here's how things unfolded during Wednesday's little drama:
Prologue—A Bit of Backbiting: Keeping in mind that the GOP is presently a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Trump Organization, there was every reason to expect that the Republican members of the Committee would spend their time trying to undercut Cohen and—even better—the proceedings as a whole. Cohen, a.k.a. the star of the show, hadn't even spoken when several GOP congressmen began to live up to expectations. Mark Meadows (R-NC) challenged Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in a fiery way, announcing that since Cohen did not provide his written testimony 24 hours in advance, the hearing had to be postponed under Committee rules. Cummings disagreed. After some parliamentary wrangling, a motion to table Meadows' motion was put to a (voice) vote, and the Committee basically told Meadows to shove it. He wasn't having any of it, so he demanded a roll call vote and got it, with the same result (naturally, since the Democrats are in the majority on the Committee). But the tone was set: Republicans did everything they could short of holding up "We love Trump" signs and wearing MAGA hats to defend the President.
Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-OH) has also been known to do a little grandstanding, and did not want to let a golden opportunity pass. After all, once Cohen got going, the spotlight would be on him for the rest of the day. So, carpe-ing the diem, Jordan announced that the entire hearing was a PR stunt dreamed up by Cohen's lawyer (and friend of the Clintons) Lanny Davis, so that the Democrats could carry out Tom Steyer's dream of impeaching Donald Trump. At some point, one begins to wonder if Republicans are capable of concocting conspiracy theories that don't point the finger at one or more Jews (as Davis and Steyer both are). In any case, Cummings didn't bother to respond; he just told Jordan to shut up.
Act I—Cohen Comes Clean: The one-time Trump lawyer/fixer started with an opening statement, which was reported by many media outlets Tuesday evening. He pretty much stuck to his written text, admitting that back in 2007 he was mesmerized by Trump and was deliriously happy to work for him. That's why Cohen stuck with the Donald through thick and thin, committing many crimes for him, including lying to Congress to protect him.
Cohen also said something else that may ultimately connect a lot of dots: Trump didn't run to win the presidency or to make America great again (and he definitely didn't expect to defeat Hillary Clinton). He ran entirely to build his brand. The whole campaign was originally a marketing opportunity for him. Probably he was thinking something along the lines of: "If I can run against a field with over a dozen respected Republican senators and governors and come in, say fourth or fifth or sixth, I can demand more money from NBC for my reality show and charge a higher licensing fee for putting my name on buildings and merchandise." Also very much on Trump's mind was the potential Trump Tower Moscow. Since Trump didn't expect to win, he was always thinking about using his increased fame to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to allow him to build the Tower, on which he expected to earn hundreds of millions of dollars. This would certainly explain a certain laissez faire attitude toward interactions with the Russians, since nobody ever investigates the questionable activities of the loser after a political campaign.
Besides accusing Trump of suborning perjury, and of running an "Oops, I won" presidential campaign, what were Cohen's other major revelations? Here's the list that Politico put together:
- Trump knew about the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya in advance
- The campaign communicated directly with Julian Assange about the e-mails the Russians hacked
- Trump proudly cheated on his taxes, cheated his business partners, and lied about his net worth
- Trump used threats to keep his academic records secret (after attacking Barack Obama for not releasing his)
- Trump regularly made racist remarks about black people
- He was proud of dodging the draft and not going to Vietnam
- There may be another, currently secret, investigation of Trump by the SDNY
One interesting note is that when Cohen was asked if he was in Prague in the summer of 2016 to meet with anyone, he answered that he has never been to the Czech Republic. If that is true, then on at least one point, the infamous Steele dossier is wrong.
Act II—The Democrats Strike: During the hearing, Democratic and Republicans alternated, getting 5-minute time slots to ask questions or grandstand, as they saw fit. Still, things are clearer if we deal with the Democrats as a group, especially since they largely dominated the early portions of the hearing. It was quite clear that the members of the blue team had coordinated their questions and their strategy, making sure that they did not repeat one another, and that they got Cohen to say things that they wanted on the record. For example, Former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) asked Cohen if he thought Trump was capable of colluding with the Russians. Cohen responded that for Trump, winning is the only thing, and he would do anything to win, including colluding with the Russians. That's not a first-person account of him colluding, but it sets the stage for arguing that collusion is something he might do.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked Cohen if anything ever happened in the Trump Organization or the campaign without Trump's approval, and the (expected) answer was that nothing ever happened without Trump's personal approval. This question was intended to be a preventive strike against some bad act being proven later and then Trump saying: "Gee, I didn't know about that at all."
Probably many viewers were scratching their heads when Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) got a 5-minute time slot. Although D.C. does not have a voting member in the House, she does represent the District in Congress and is a member of the Oversight Committee. She just can't vote on bills on the floor of the House. She wanted to know about how Trump reacted when the Billy Bush tape became public. Cohen's answer: He and others were instructed to work the media and say it was just "locker room talk." Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) of the U.S. Virgin Islands is also on the Committee and also asked questions.
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) was curious about Cohen's conversion from a Trump loyalist to someone willing to rat on the President. Cohen said he saw the light after the Helsinki meeting with Putin and the Charlottesville rally in which Trump said Nazis and anti-Nazis were all good people. Cooper also asked why Cohen had asked for the hearing to be postponed until yesterday, and Cohen said that Trump has repeatedly attacked his family and he was afraid that one of Trump's 60 million Twitter followers might see that as a call to action.
Newly elected Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) wanted to see how many times he could squeeze the phrase "convicted Russian mobster Felix Sater" into five minutes. He got Cohen to say that not only did Trump know aforesaid convicted Russian mobster very well (something Trump has denied), but that Sater had a rent-free office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, directly next to Trump's own office.
The subject of the hacked DNC emails came up a number of times. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) noted that Trump claims that he didn't know about the emails until they were released. Then he asked Cohen about this, and Cohen said he was in Trump's office when Roger Stone called and was put on speakerphone. Stone said that the dump was coming shortly. If Cohen was telling the truth, then Trump most certainly knew about the e-mails in advance, which strengthens the case for his being personally aware of what the Russians were doing in real time, and thus party to a conspiracy.
Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) focused on the mechanics of how Trump paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about their affair. Cohen said that he set up an LLC in Delaware, put $130,000 in it using money taken from a home equity line of credit he had, then wired it from the LLC to Daniels' lawyer. He was later reimbursed in 11 checks signed by a variety of people. After he finished his story, Kelly asked: "Why so complicated?" Cohen said it was to hide the whole thing. That means Trump clearly understood that what he was doing was unethical, at the very least, and probably illegal. Otherwise, why hide it?
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) specifically harped on the second check Trump had cut to reimburse Cohen for paying Daniels. It was signed by Allan Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr., supposedly for legal services rendered. But Cohen didn't render any legal services, so Khanna announced to the American people that Trump Organization executives had engaged in garden-variety financial fraud. He wanted to know if the authorities were looking into this, but Cohen refused to tell Khanna what he knows.
Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) wanted to hear about the Trump Tower Moscow deal. During the campaign, Trump said over and over he had no ongoing business in Russia. That was a complete lie, as Cohen was actively negotiating with the Russians all during the campaign and keeping Trump (and his adult children) informed in real time. When DeSaulnier asked what stopped the deal, Cohen simply said: "Trump won."
Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) was miffed that, earlier in the hearing, Mark Meadows found a black woman who said Trump wasn't racist and implied that somehow she was a spokeswoman for all black people. Lawrence made it abundantly clear that no one person speaks for all black people and they certainly don't speak for Brenda Lawrence. Cohen took this opportunity to support his point that Trump is racist by pointing out that the number of black executives in the Trump organization is zero.
Not long thereafter, there was a bit of a flare-up when Rep. Rashid Tlaib (D-MI) said that anyone who uses a black woman as a prop to prove that black people love Trump is themselves a racist. She didn't name names, per se, but only one representative introduced a black woman as evidence that black people think Trump is not a racist, and that was Meadows. So, when she said this, Meadows went a little bonkers, thundering that he has a niece and nephew of color and demanding that Tlaib's remarks be stricken from the record. Cummings didn't exactly know how to handle this, so he asked Tlaib to rephrase her remarks, which she did. When asked point blank if she meant that Meadows was a racist, she said "no," but she was clearly lying, since there is nobody else she could have been referring to when she said what she said. So, Tlaib backed down, but she clearly didn't mean it. Welcome to Congress.
Other topics that came up were whether Trump lied about the value of his assets for tax purposes (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, NY) or whether he engaged in self-dealing using his foundation (Ayana Pressley, MA). In short, the Democrats left few stones unturned.
Act III—The Republicans Strike Back: Now the GOP, which is much easier. It was clear that, like the Democrats, they had coordinated on a battle plan. However, where the Democrats made sure that each member was saying different things, the Republicans made sure that each member was saying the same thing, namely that Cohen is a sinner, and Donald Trump is a saint. Almost all of the GOP members attacked Cohen's credibility. Some of them are former prosecutors and they simply acted the way they would if Cohen were on trial and they were prosecuting him. Cohen has already repeatedly admitted that he lied and committed crimes to help Trump, so they asked questions like: "When you lied to banks to get loans for yourself, was that for Trump's benefit or yours? "When you cheated on your taxes year after year, was that for Trump's benefit, or yours?"
Almost none of the Republican members were interested in the issues that Cohen and the Democrats brought up. When they weren't asking loaded questions, they were accusing Cohen of being a liar, with the logic being that since he lied to Congress before, everything he said on Wednesday was also a lie. Obviously, if they can convince Americans that Cohen is lying, they don't need to address any of the things he said. So, it was a lot of things like, "You and Trump drove through Chicago and he made racist remarks? You're lying." "You were there when Roger Stone told Trump about the e-mail hack? You're lying." "You claim Trump had to approve every Trump Organization and campaign expenditure personally? You're lying." It's a multipurpose answer. One size fits all. Of course, it doesn't fit so well if people find out that Cohen had documentary evidence in support of some of his claims.
A few of the Republicans suggested that Cohen's real motivation, and his purpose in lying through his teeth for 4 hours, was to land a book deal. Cohen said that he had no book (or movie) deal planned, although he has been approached by publishers. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) thought of a clever ploy to try to eliminate any future books or movies. She asked him to state, under oath, that he will never write a "Trump and Me" book so as to profit from all his lying. He didn't take the bait and didn't promise anything. Her goal, of course, is to convince Fox News viewers that Cohen is lying to make a buck, something they know Trump would never do.
Another theme that quite a few Republicans brought up is how disgraceful it is for the first hearing the Oversight Committee of the 116th Congress held stars a convicted criminal, especially one whose crimes include lying to Congress. Some of the Democrats responded by wondering how come the 115th Congress, which the Republicans controlled, never got around to holding hearings starring any of the people special counsel Robert Mueller has convicted or gotten to plead guilty.
Some of the Republicans didn't even bother to attack Cohen or Cummings. They just left that to their colleagues and gave their stump speech. In particular, Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) rhetorically asked why this charade was even going on when the country had so many other problems, like illegal immigrants flooding into the country and [insert rest of stump speech here]. The idea that the House Oversight Committee might do a little...oversight apparently slipped his mind. In the heat of a congressional hearing, that often happens.
One area where the Republicans might have a point is whether Cohen is dumping all over Trump to get even for his not getting a job in the White House, as has been widely reported. Cohen claimed that the job he did get—the president's personal lawyer—was the job he wanted all along. He said it over and over yesterday, but it is hard to know if that's really true. CNN, for one, says it is not.
One member who had a particularly bad day was Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), despite the fact that he's not even on the Oversight Committee. On Tuesday night, just hours before Cohen's testimony, the Congressman tweeted this: "Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she'll remain faithful when you're in prison. She's about to learn a lot..." That could be construed as a threat. And inasmuch as Gaetz is a lawyer, the Florida bar is none too happy with what he did. So, they are now investigating the matter, and may disbar him, even though he's already apologized and deleted the tweet.
Anyhow, once everyone on both sides of the aisle had used up their allotted time, and played the role they were required to play, Cummings wrapped things up with an impassioned 8-minute conclusion:
For those who do not wish to watch, the crux of it was this portion:I've sat here and listened to all of this and it's very painful. You made a lot of mistakes, Mr. Cohen, and you've admitted that. You know that one of the saddest parts of this whole thing is that some innocent people are hurting, too, and that's your family...I don't know where you go from here...We are better than this. As a country, we are so much better than this...It sounds like you're crying out for a new normal, to get back to normal. It sounds to me like you want to make sure that our democracy stays intact. I'm hoping that the things you said today will help us to get back there.
His performance has been getting rave reviews, an assessment undoubtedly aided by its being a pretty distinct counterpoint to the four hours of nastiness and finger pointing that preceded it.
Epilogue—What's Next?: This hearing is obviously not going to be the last one on the subject of Donald Trump, and Cohen is not going to be the last witness. In fact, multiple Democrats asked Cohen who else the Committee should call, and over and over he said that they should chat with Trump CFO Allen Weisselberg. If that happens, the Republicans are going to have a problem because he is not a convicted felon. So, simply attacking him over and over for being a convicted liar won't work. Many Republicans believe in the power of prayer, so they are probably going to pray hard that Weisselberg isn't called to testify any time soon. Their problem is that every single one of the Democrats in the House believe in the power of subpoenas (more below).
So, there you have it. This story is likely to dominate the next several news cycles, especially since Donald Trump is now on his way back to the U.S. (see below) and will give it more oxygen by ranting about Cohen's testimony on Twitter. (V & Z)
While most of the attention concerning Michael Cohen's testimony has been on how it affects Donald Trump, some other members of the President's inner circle may get their time in the barrel later. Here is a short list of some of the other people whose names came up yesterday:
- Donald Trump Jr.:
One of the checks Cohen submitted with his testimony was reportedly cosigned by Junior. If, as Cohen
claims, the check was reimbursement for the hush money he fronted to Stormy Daniels, then Junior
probably violated campaign finance law and could be prosecuted for it. If the prosecutors in the
Southern District of New York (SDNY) didn't know about Junior's involvement in the hush money
payments before yesterday, they certainly know now. On the other hand, the signature on the check is
hard to read and it might be Trump's real estate controller, Jeffrey McConney, in which case he's
the one who might be in trouble.
- Ivanka Trump:
Cohen briefed her almost a dozen times on the progress of the negotiations to build Trump Tower
Moscow. She has responded to reporters' queries by saying she knew almost nothing about the project.
As long as she doesn't say this under oath, she is probably in the clear, but if the SDNY starts
asking her questions under oath, she might have a problem.
- Eric Trump:
Cohen said that some of the reimbursement checks may have been signed by Eric Trump, but he didn't
present them to the Committee. Count on Elijah Cummings to issue a subpoena to the bank to get them.
For Eric Trump as well as his brother, a key legal issue is whether he knew what he was doing was
illegal. This is one of those situations in which saying: "I'm a real dummy. I don know nuthin about
campaign law" might actually work, since the law makes a knowing violation of the law a felony, not
- Allen Weisselberg:
The Trump Organization's long-time CFO, Allen Weisselberg, knows everything about the organization's
finances, and probably quite a bit about Trump's personal finances as well. He cosigned one of the
reimbursement checks and as a financial professional is not in a good position to make the "I am a
financial nitwit" defense. If Cummings subpoenas him, the Democrats will ask all manner of questions
about potential money laundering and Russian money. He can't plead the Fifth Amendment because he
has already been granted immunity from prosecution by the SDNY. Congress could do likewise if need
be. From Trump's perspective, Weisselberg is the most dangerous witness because he knows so much
about Trump's finances and it is very unlikely that he will take a bullet for Trump.
- Rhona Graff:
Trump's long-time executive assistant has had the office next to Trump's for decades. She knows
everyone who has ever entered the office and has probably seen much of the organization's paperwork.
She is intensely loyal to Trump, but if she is granted immunity, she might have to cough up
secrets—if the Democrats ask the right questions. She won't volunteer anything, but probably
won't lie under oath, either.
- Roger Stone:
Cohen mentioned in his testimony that he heard Roger Stone on speakerphone talking about the
upcoming e-mail dump before it happened. Congress might just be interested in hearing Stone's side
of the story on this one. Stone could lie to Congress (something he has already been indicted for)
again, but Cummings could subpoena phone records to see if he did place a call to Trump when Cohen
said he did. Of course, he could admit the call but say they just talked about other campaign
- Corey Lewandowski:
Trump's former campaign manager obviously knows a great deal about Trump and the campaign.
Especially interesting, however, is Cohen's allegation that Lewandowski might have traveled to Russia to
work on the Trump Tower project. The Committee might be interested in some of the details here.
- Jay Sekulow:
Cohen said that Trump's lawyers edited his written testimony to Congress
last time he appeared. That written testimony was not entirely truthful. Jay Sekulow was Trump's
personal attorney at the time and Congress might be curious about who,
if anyone, did some editing. Sekulow would probably know. However,
yesterday he responded to Cohen's testimony by saying that Trump's
lawyers did not edit Cohen's testimony in advance. So either Cohen is
lying or Sekulow is.
- Rudy Giuliani:
Cohen leveled multiple charges at Giuliani yesterday, including that "America's Mayor" threatened
his safety and engaged in witness intimidation. Giuliani has already pushed back at Cohen and might
claim attorney-client privilege if the Committee tries to question him. He undoubtedly knows a lot
about Trump, but will fight like hell to keep it private.
- Jeffrey Getzel: Jeffrey Getzel is not a household name, but could end up becoming one. He is Trump's accountant. Cohen has accused Trump of cooking the books and inflating his net worth when trying to move higher on Forbes' list of the richest billionaires, but deflating it for tax purposes. Getzel might not know about the former, but would certainly know about everything related to Trump's taxes. He probably wouldn't be happy testifying about the subject, but the Committee could force him to do so.
In short, Cohen provided Cummings with a nice list of people who might be able to shed more light on matters the Committee is interested in. The ball is now in Cummings' court. We'll probably soon know if he is planning any more hearings or if this was a one-shot deal. (V)
Once Michael Cohen had his say, pundits and analysts across the country got to work on "takeaways" pieces, giving us a veritable cornucopia to choose from. Here are some of the better ones:The New York Times:
- The president faces peril having nothing to do with Russia
- Possible conspiracy with Russians remains on the table
- Mr. Cohen explains the role of "a fixer"
- Cohen savaged Trump's character
- A retreat to tribal corners
- New details, new drama
- Cohen held his own
- GOP lashed Cohen as an unreliable witness
- Some lawmakers on both sides overreached
- This is just the start
- Trump allegedly knew more about the Russia connection than he has admitted
- There is a 'smoking gun document'
- The 'catch and kill' racket run by the National Enquirer owner goes much deeper than thought
- Further possible legal peril for Trump
- Threatening behavior is common currency in Trumpland
- Cohen's remarkable accusations
- Road map for ongoing investigation
- Republicans' game plan: attack, attack, attack
- Cohen was critical of Trump, to a point
- Testimony contradicts Stone and Trump Jr.
- This is a White House problem, not just a campaign one
- Cohen said Trump spoke with Roger Stone about WikiLeaks
- Cohen confirmed Trump directed him to pay off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal
- Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow (and others) edited Cohen's congressional testimony in August 2017
- Cohen said he briefed Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. a number of times about Trump Tower Moscow
- Cohen made clear that Trump never directly asked him to lie to Congress
- Cohen said he has never been to Prague
- Hope Hicks called Cohen when the "Access Hollywood" tape broke
- Cohen never sought a presidential pardon
- Cohen provides plenty of smoke -- if not a gun
- The other investigation
- The times he defended Trump
- Two questionable claims
- Ocasio-Cortez shows up the veterans
- He says there are additional non-public investigations of Mr. Trump
- He claims Mr. Trump indirectly told him to lie to Congress
- He claims Mr. Trump knew in advance about the release of hacked Democratic emails
- He claims Mr. Trump was deeply involved in the hush money payments
- He suggests that Mr. Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting
- He shed light on Mr. Trump's finances and his relationship with Deutsche Bank
- New probe of Trump by prosecutors revealed
- A Cohen book or movie could be in the works
- Cohen hints at other payments of hush money
- Cohen says Trump-Sater documents probably in a box somewhere
- Cohen's 'Truth in Testimony Disclosure Form' questioned
If you just can't get enough, and you want even more takeaways beyond these eight, then here are some others: ABC News, WIRED, BBC News, Cosmopolitan, Business Insider, The Daily Signal, The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, The Bulwark, and USA Today.
The most common recurring themes, meanwhile, are: (1) Donald Trump's position just got worse, in terms of Russia in particular, and in general; (2) The GOP members of the Oversight Committee were in "search and destroy" mode; (3) Cohen has a credibility issue; and (4) This isn't over, by a long shot. (Z)
There weren't many takeaways pieces from right-leaning websites, outside the one from The Daily Signal (which wasn't that good), the one from the Wall Street Journal (which is behind a paywall), and the one from Bulwark (which is anti-Trump). And since most left-leaning and centrist Americans have already concluded Trump is just this side of Satan, it's the response on the right that probably matters the most. So, what follows is a sample of how they are covering the story. Largely speaking, the President appears to be holding firm as they close ranks around him:
Fox News: Under hyperpartisan questioning, did Michael Cohen damage Trump?, "The bottom line: Trump's image definitely got scuffed up yesterday, but by a guy who had soiled his own reputation. I don't think the ball moved very much."
Breitbart: Hollywood Freaks Out over Michael Cohen Hearing: Trump 'Going Down,' GOP Is 'Deathkkkult', "Hollywood exploded with unhinged hot takes Wednesday as President Donald Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen spoke at a congressional hearing about his work for Trump."
RedState: Michael Cohen's Testimony Sets A Shaky Foundation For President Trump's Impeachment, "Make no mistake about it, Cohen's testimony is just part of a Democrat party [plot] to impeach President Trump, an act they can accomplish without a single GOP vote. Don't believe for a second those stories you hear of Pelosi and others saying they don't want impeachment. Of course, they do. Running for re-election with a Senate trial in the near future would be a helluva burden. Even if Pelosi didn't want to impeach, if she wants to keep control of the House she has no choice. The Democrat base demands it and she will do her best to deliver."
Washington Examiner: The Cohen hearing conclusion catastrophe proves the obvious: Congress is broken, "To think, a hearing meant to determine whether Trump's dealings with his personal attorney constituted presidential corruption devolved into an emotion hissy fit sparked by an ugly outburst alleging racism from the first congresswoman to ever call for the complete eradication of the world's only Jewish state. It would almost be funny if these morons weren't the ones in charge of designing the laws that dictate our lives."
InfoWars: List: 5 Lies Cohen Told Under Oath During Congressional Testimony, "Cohen stated that he's never been to Prague, which contradicts assertions from the infamous Steele Dossier. Either Cohen is lying, or the Steele Dossier fabricated the claim Cohen traveled to Prague to meet with "Kremlin officials" to discuss payments to whoever "hacked" Hillary Clinton."
It should be noted that Drudge Report had a fairly broad range of links on the story, and that Breitbart and Fox both had brief items referencing some elements of Wednesday's hearings that were not favorable to Trump. Still, the base will have access to some red meat reporting that will tell them it's no big deal, or that it's all a big scam. Alternatively, they will also be able to stick their heads in the sand and ignore the story since, outside of Drudge, it's getting a fraction of the attention that non-right-leaning outlets are giving it. In fact, here were the lead headlines on the various right-leaning sites on Wednesday night/Thursday morning:
- Fox News: Talks Collapse in Hanoi
- National Review: Burlington's Foreign Policy (about Bernie Sanders' 1980s views)
- Breitbart: Trump Walks Away: Kim Summit Cut Short
- RedState: It's-Never-Settled (about the United Methodist Church and Brexit)
- The Resurgent: Is the Death Penalty "Unchristian?"
- Hot Air: Sure Sounds Like SCOTUS Is Going to Let the "Peace Cross" Continue to Stand on State Land
- TownHall: Meadows Clashes with Tlaib in Hearing after She Says He Engaged in a "Racist Act."
- PJ Media: Dems Reelect Trump by Staging Partisan Cohen Hearing during Nuke Negotiations
- WND: Muslim Ilhan Omar "Terrified" by Just 1 Thing (Mike Pence becoming president)
- Daily Caller: Green new deal? Biggest U.S. City to Go "100% Renewable" Lost Millions on Solar, Wind Contracts
The careful reader will note the lack of Cohen headlines. In contrast, The Bulwark, which—as noted—is run by traditional conservatives, all of whom despise Donald Trump, led with the "The Five Biggest Takeaways from Michael Cohen's Testimony" item linked above, and they also had several other items about the story high on the page.
The approach that is on display here—take a potshot or two at Cohen, but also downplay the story—suggests that the content producers at the Trump-loving sites don't quite know how to proceed. While they would generally gravitate to tear-down pieces (usually producing two or three a day on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez alone), they may be worried that Cohen's documentary evidence and willingness to defend Trump on some points actually makes him believable.
In any case, even if the needle does not move right now, it does not mean that Trump is in the clear. Keeping in mind the John Dean reference at the top of the page, it is worth pointing out—as Julian Zelizer does for CNN—that the Watergate committee chipped away at Nixon's accounting of himself, such that his support eroded slowly before suffering a catastrophic collapse about nine months after Dean sold him up the river. So, it likely won't be clear for a while, one way or another, exactly how fateful Wednesday was. (Z)
By all accounts, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un had a couple of very pleasant chats during their confab in Hanoi. And Trump learned something that could have been ascertained with roughly 16,000 miles less travel: Kim has no intention of giving up his nukes. And so, the President decided to walk away from the bargaining table and head home, bringing a premature end to Summit v2.0.
Consequently, the whole shindig was a failure in terms of advancing Donald Trump's foreign policy objectives. It was also a failure in terms of the President's other purpose, namely deflecting some attention from the Michael Cohen testimony. Just about every outlet in the land has Cohen in big letters at the top of the page, with the summit reduced to, in essence, a footnote. See, for example, the New York Post:
Actually, it is even worse than that. The big summit-related story of the day, prior to the early termination, was that a handful of reporters were effectively booted out of the press pool in Vietnam because they had the temerity to ask questions about Michael Cohen. And so, Team Trump managed to take a news story that was meant to distract attention from Cohen's testimony and turn it into a story about Cohen's testimony.
It continues to amaze that this administration does not heed the lesson of...that's right, Barbara Streisand. In 2003, she sued to get pictures of her house removed from the Internet. The lawsuit failed, and had the result of dramatically increasing people's interest in pictures of Streisand's house. In Babs' honor, this phenomenon is called the Streisand effect. If Trump & Co. had let the reporters ask their questions, and then ignored them or given pat answers, then people half a world away in the United States would have been none the wiser. But attempting to silence the reporters was tantamount to announcing: "We're terrified about what Cohen will say." Not the best media strategy. (Z)
On Wednesday, Beto O'Rourke revealed two things:
- He won't challenge Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) in 2020
- He and his wife "have made a decision about how we can best serve our country."
The former representative and candidate for the U.S. Senate did not say anything beyond that, but it's unlikely he thinks he can best serve his country by volunteering to lead a boy scout troop. So, tea leaf readers presume this is entree to a presidential bid, something that O'Rourke insiders confirmed to the Dallas Morning News.
If O'Rourke did indeed want to continue his political career in 2020, as opposed to taking a few years off, then this was surely the way to go. Given his brand of grassroots, take-the-message-to-the-people campaigning, a Senate campaign and a presidential campaign will be equally taxing on him in terms of time and energy. Also, winning as the Democratic candidate in red Texas is probably a lower-percentage bet than winning as one of a dozen Democrats in purple America. And, of course, being one of one presidents is a much juicier prize than being one of 100 senators. Plus, if things don't work out, O'Rourke would be a leading contender for the #2 slot on many Democrats' tickets (Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, maybe Cory Booker).
Meanwhile, Cornyn has to be thrilled with this news. He would be the favorite against any Democrat, presumably, but O'Rourke had far and away the best chance of knocking him off. The Democratic bench is fairly deep in Texas, so they'll come up with someone, but that someone is not likely to capture the attention and the enthusiasm that O'Rourke did. (Z)
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