A Tale Of Two Testimonies

Trump’s Former Lawyer Michael Cohen Levels Multiple Accusations At The President, While Elsewhere On Capitol Hill, Trump’s Top Trade Rep Reassures Nervous Lawmakers About China

Michael Cohen spent more than 7 1/2 hours fielding all kinds of questions about his former top client and employer of more than a decade, saying about Trump, among other things, that:

He is a racist. He is a con man. And he is a cheat.

So what else is new…? Well, Cohen anticipated that reaction too, and so brought with him lots of physical evidence, including checks used to pay off porn star Stormy Daniels, signed by both Donald Trump, Jr., and Trump himself.

Here’s Cohen explaining his motivation in testifying (click on the photo to watch):

The entire day before the House Oversight Committee was extraordinary, and extraordinarily partisan.

Democrats approached Cohen as the keeper of a trove of secrets–some that we knew about, some that we didn’t–that Trump is trying very hard to keep hidden. Republicans attempted to discredit Cohen as an inveterate liar, just out to parlay his misdeeds into a juice book or movie deal. Which frankly, was a little hard to pull off with a guy who already is pretty clearly at rock bottom.

Here’s one of many attempts, this by Georgia Republican Representative Jody Hice, which segued into a torrid rebuttal by Massachusetts Democrat Stephen Lynch (click on the photo to watch):

We spent a lot of time in public places today—many of which had the Cohen testimony on in the background—and anecdotally through overhearing conversations found that people who were inclined to believe Cohen going in, found him highly credible. While people who thought he was sleazy going in, found him to be incredibly sleazy. Then again—and we’re not predicting this is going to happen, in fact we don’t think it will—it sometimes takes a bad guy to bring down a bad guy.

The one thing that really jumped out at us (and we weren’t the only ones: we later found a Tweet with Chris Christie saying the same thing) was that the entire Republican effort was dedicated to showing Cohen up as a liar. David Frum, in the Atlantic later did an even more comprehensive piece on this theme. No one produced one shred of evidence that even suggested anything he said wasn’t true. For instance, when Cohen produced a check that had been signed by Trump as part of the Stormy Daniels payoff, no Republican even attempted to argue that maybe Trump didn’t write the check, or it wasn’t his signature. Instead, Louisiana Republican Clay Higgins attempted to have it seized (even though it already had been in an earlier F.B.I. raid, and then returned to Cohen). Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows had an African American woman who works for the Department of Housing and Urban Development stand silently behind him for a few moments, apparently to prove Trump isn’t racist. Other observers have noted Republicans only asked Cohen about Cohen, not one of them asked a single question about Trump.

It’s as if Republicans have now adopted a position of “Yeah, our President’s a liar and a crook, now f*ck off!”

Elsewhere at the Capitol, another hearing caught our attention: Trump’s main trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer appearing before House Ways and Means. Lighthizer, whom we’ve often identified as truly one of Trump’s “best people” (although we may not agree with his politics, he’s extremely competent), was there to talk about adjusting China’s attitude on trade from something other than “f*ck off, we’re China”.

Since negotiations with China are in Mid-stream (some China trade officials stayed in Washington this week), Lighthizer painted in very broad strokes.

He emphasized the U.S. far and away leads the world in technological innovation, and that’s got to be the fulcrum of any deal, as is strong enforcement mechanisms since China in the past has agreed to do things like stop stealing intellectual property, and then just kept doing it. Problem is you can’t see intellectual property like you can see a soybean. That’s part of why it’s so easy to steal.

So a deal in this area—if it’s effective—will be virtually invisible. And Trump likes stuff that’s shiny and flashy that he can point at and boast about.

Representatives from both parties seemed more than a little concerned that Trump might go for a high-glitz, low-substance deal with China in order to get it done quickly and have something that’s easy to take pictures of and show off. Like, for instance, China agreeing to buy a lot more soybeans. With visions in his head of a signing ceremony with China’s President Xi at Mar-a-Lago, which he keeps longingly talking about. 

Lighthizer assured them that was not his, nor the President’s intention.

Texas Democrat Lloyd Doggett took it one step further, suggesting that with Trump’s impromptu “banning” of the term “Memorandum of Understanding” during an impromptu Oval Office Q&A last week with reporters (China’s top trade official was also in the room, and seemed to get a few good chuckles out of the President’s behavior), the President might’ve inadvertently made it necessary to get Congress’ approval for any forthcoming China trade deal. Lighthizer at the time explained that a “Memorandum of Understanding” (or MOU), is a binding contract. Trump said he didn’t care; he doesn’t like the way it sounds. If you haven’t seen that remarkable public exchange, here it is (click on the photo to watch):

And here’s the exchange between Congressman Doggett and Lighthizer from the hearing, where the Trade Rep insists even though any China “understanding” is now to be called an “agreement”, per the President, that doesn’t mean Congress gets to stick it’s thumb in.

We’ve previously discussed why the President has so much power over international trade, when the Constitution designates regulating “Commerce with foreign Nations” as Congesss’ job. But Section 103 of a more recent trade act, which Lighthizer refers to, does not require anything but the President’s signature, so long as the deal meets a set of objectives Congress has in effect pre-agreed to.

Meanwhile, Trump concluded the substantive part of his meeting today with Kim Jong-un in Vietnam. And ended it early, with the U.S. delegation saying it walked away because North Korea’s demands were one-sided. With not much else substantive to report. Except that Trump believes Kim knew nothing about the mistreatment in North Korean custody that ultimately resulted in the death of American student Otto Warmbier. How does Trump know Kim didn’t know? Because Kim told him so. Sound familiar?

Trump’s dealings with North Korea are perhaps not directly, but inexorably tied to that China trade deal. And any progress with North Korea should work in Trump’s favor in terms of getting the deal with China done. 

How? We’ll leave that as a cliffhanger for today, and get back to it in a future column (probably tomorrow, unless something crazy happens tomorrow.)

With North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un at table during their meeting in Vietnam. Trump today appeared irritated at post-meeting news conference. Click on the photo above to watch.