Friday, March 1, 2019

Closing statements by Cohen and Cummings in House Oversight Committee hearing - and why we believed Cohen

Below are transcripts of the closing remarks by Michael Cohen and Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings. Also included are excerpts from an op-ed by former prosecutor Joyce Vance. I lead off with some teasers.

Cohen: “I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”
Cummings: “we have got to get back to normal.”
Vance: “On Wednesday, Cohen began the transformation from deceitful criminal to believable witness.”

Let me start with two observations about Wednesday’s hearing. First, the Republicans on the committee wasted no time in defending the President. Rather, they used their time to try to tear apart Michael Cohen, to impugn the man and his motives. How could they do otherwise? There are no grounds to trust this President about anything. As Cummings said, “our president has made at least 8,718 … false or misleading statements. That’s stunning.”

Second, watching the proceedings on Wednesday, I had this disquieting feeling, one of almost disorientation, that I was being sucked into believing Cohen and everything he testified to. If you, like me, had such a feeling, if you felt your trust being extended to Cohen who had previously lied to Congress, then you will want to read Joyce Vance’s explanation of “how someone who has stood before a judge at the lowest moment of his life, acknowledging participation in criminal acts, can become a credible witness.”

Cohen’s parting shot

Vox.com has the transcript of Michael Cohen’s parting shot: I fear what happens if Trump loses in 2020. “This behavior denigrates the office of the president, and it’s simply un-American.”

Michael Cohen closed his remarkable testimony before Congress on Wednesday with an opaque but alarming warning about what could happen if President Donald Trump loses the 2020 election and some words addressed directly to his former boss.

“My loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything: my family’s happiness, friendships, my law license, my company, my livelihood, my honor, my reputation and, soon, my freedom. And I will not sit back, say nothing, and allow him to do the same to the country,” Cohen said at the hearing’s closing. “Indeed, given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power, and this is why I agreed to appear before you today.”

He then turned his remarks to Trump himself, running through a long list of actions he has found unacceptable — attacks on law enforcement and the media, family separations at the Mexican border, friendliness with hostile foreign leaders — that Cohen said motivated him to testify.

“This behavior denigrates the office of the president and it’s simply un-American,” he said. “And it’s not you.”

Cohen’s full closing statement is below:

I have acknowledged I have made my own mistakes and I have owned up to them publicly and under oath. But silence and complicity in the face of the daily destruction of our basic norms and civility to one another will not be one of them.

I did things and I acted improperly, at times at Mr. Trump’s behest. I blindly followed his demands. My loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything, my family’s happiness, friendships, my law license, my company, my livelihood, my honor, my reputation and soon my freedom.

And I will not sit back, say nothing, and allow him to do the same to the country. Indeed given my experience working for Mr. Trump I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power, and this is why I agreed to appear before you today.

In closing, I’d like to say directly to the president: We honor our veterans even in the rain, you tell the truth even when it doesn’t aggrandize you, you respect the law and incredible law enforcement agents, you don’t villainize them, you don’t disparage generals, gold star families, prisoners of war and other heroes who had the courage to fight for this country. You don’t attack the media and those who question what you don’t like or what you don’t want them to say and you take responsibility for your own dirty deeds.

You don’t use your power of your bully pulpit to destroy the credibility of those who speak out against you. You don’t separate families from one another or demonize those looking to America for a better life. You don’t vilify people based on the god they pray to and you don’t cuddle up to our adversaries at the expense of our allies. Finally, you don’t shut down the government before Christmas and New Year’s just to simply appease your base.

This behavior denigrates the office of the president, and it’s simply un-American. And it’s not you.

So to those who support the president and his rhetoric as I once did, I pray the country doesn’t make the same mistakes that I have made or pay the heavy price that my family and I are paying, and I thank you very much for this additional time, Mr. Chairman.

Cummings: Crying out for a return to normal

The Baltimore Sun has the full transcript of Rep. Elijah Cummings’ closing statements at Michael Cohen hearing.

Read the full transcript of Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings’ closing remarks at the hearing of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen in front of the House Oversight Committee.

You know I’ve sat here, and I’ve listened to all this, and it’s very painful. It’s very painful. You made a lot of mistakes, Mr. Cohen — and you’ve admitted that. And, you know, one of the saddest parts of this whole thing is that some very innocent people are hurting too. And you acknowledged that. And, um, that’s your family.

And, so you come here today, you… deep in my heart … when I practiced law I represented a lot of lawyers who got in trouble. And, you come saying I have made my mistakes, but now I want to change my life. And you know, if we … as a nation did not give people an opportunity after they’ve made mistakes to change their lives, a whole lot of people would not do very well.

I don’t know where you go from here. As I sat here and I listened to both sides, I just felt as if … and you know… people are now using my words, that they took from me, that didn’t give me any credit. We are better than this. … We really are. As a country, we are so much better than this.

And, you know, I told you, and for some reason, Mr. Cohen, I tell my children, I say ‘When bad things happen to you, do not ask the question “Why did it happen to me?” Ask the question, “Why did it happen for me?” I don’t know why this is happening for you. But it’s my hope that a small part of it is for our country to be better. If I hear you correctly, it sounds like you’re crying out for a new normal — for us getting back to normal. It sounds to me like you want to make sure that our democracy stays intact.

The one meeting I had with President Trump, I said to him ‘the greatest gift that you and I, Mr. President, can give to our children, is making sure we give them a democracy that is intact. A … democracy better than the one we came upon. And I’m hoping that, the things you said today will help us again to get back there.

You know, I mean come on now. I mean, when you got, according to The Washington Post, our president has made at least 8,718 … false or misleading statements. That’s stunning. That’s not what we teach our children. I don’t teach mine that. And, for whatever reason, it sounds like you got caught up in it. You got caught up in it. You got caught up in it.

And, some kind of way, I hope that you will, I know that it’s painful going to prison. I know it’s got to be painful being called a rat. And let me explain, a lot of people don’t know the significance of that, but I live in the inner city of Baltimore, all right? And when you call somebody a rat, that’s one of the worst things you can call them because when they go to prison, that means a snitch. I’m just saying. And so, the president called you a rat. We’re better than that! We really are. And I’m hoping that all of us can get back to this democracy that we want, and that we should be passing on our children so they can do better than what we did.

So you wonder whether people believe you — I don’t know. I don’t know whether they believe you. But the fact is, that you’ve come, you have your head down, and this has got to be one of the hardest things that you could do.

Let me tell you the picture that really, really pained me. You were leaving the prison, you were leaving the courthouse, and, I guess it’s your daughter, had braces or something on. Man that thing, man that thing hurt me. As a father of two daughters, it hurt me. And I can imagine how it must feel for you. But I’m just saying to you — I want to first of all thank you. I know that this has been hard. I know that you’ve faced a lot. I know that you are worried about your family. But this is a part of your destiny. And hopefully this portion of your destiny will lead to a better, a better, a better Michael Cohen, a better Donald Trump, a better United States of America, and a better world. And I mean that from the depths of my heart.

When we’re dancing with the angels, the question we’ll be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing? …

And I’m tired of statements saying … people come in here and say ‘Oh, oh this is the first hearing.’ It is not the first hearing. The first hearing was with regard to prescription drugs. Remember, a little girl, a lady sat there… Her daughter died because she could not get $330 a month in insulin. That was our first hearing. Second hearing: H.R. 1, voting rights, corruption in government. Come on now. We can do more than one thing. And we have got to get back to normal. With that, this meeting is adjourned.

Vance: Why we believed Cohen’s “truth about Mr. Trump”

Joyce White Vance, a former U.S. attorney in Alabama, is a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law. In her Washington Post op-ed she asks Yes, Michael Cohen’s a liar and a criminal. So how come you believed him? Choirboys don’t end up as cooperating witnesses. But people who do can appear credible. Below are highlights.

Although Cohen, President Trump’s former fixer and personal attorney, did not testify in a criminal trial, under questioning from a prosecutor, but rather in a congressional proceeding, under questioning from lawmakers, what we saw was an example of how someone who has stood before a judge at the lowest moment of his life, acknowledging participation in criminal acts, can become a credible witness.

It is the very fact of a defendant’s criminality that creates the baseline for this transformation. Prosecutors require witnesses with firsthand knowledge. Witnesses with firsthand knowledge are mostly high-level participants in serious crimes. But how does the conversion take place? How does a defendant who has been involved in sustained criminal activity, who has threatened people, who has lied, who has participated in fraud and is generally subject to being excoriated on cross examination by the defense because of that behavior, become a witness whom jurors, or a country, can believe, even if they don’t like him or his conduct?

On Wednesday, Cohen began the transformation from deceitful criminal to believable witness. That doesn’t mean he redeemed all of his past sins, became one of the good guys or even turned into someone you could admire. What he did was simple. He testified to facts in a manner that, even if it required further corroboration to be definitive, was believable as presented.

First, Cohen, as they say, brought the receipts. He brought the check, the financial statements, the article with Trump’s writing, the letters he wrote threatening Trump’s schools if they disclosed his grades or his scores. …

Second, Cohen didn’t go too far, when he easily could have. Asked whether Trump directed him to lie to Congress, Cohen didn’t say he had in so many words. Rather, he explained how Trump instructed him, indirectly, by saying what happened and didn’t happen as though it were the truth. Cohen said that after working for Trump for so many years, he understood the code. It would have been more beneficial to Cohen, if he was lying about it, to say Trump gave him a direct order. That he didn’t was a credibility builder.

In another instance of restraint, when testifying about a call Trump received from his associate Roger Stone about WikiLeaks and the upcoming release of stolen Democratic National Committee emails, Cohen didn’t testify that Trump knew the emails were coming from Russia or that he directed Stone’s conduct in any way. Cohen said that when Stone advised Trump of the upcoming release, Trump responded, “Wouldn’t that be great.” It’s not useless, but it’s not exactly the testimony of a prosecutor’s dreams. Had Cohen been making it up, he would have placed Trump at the center of a conspiracy, directing the action.

Third, Cohen’s story made sense. And we should never undervalue common sense in legal proceedings. When prosecutors make their closing arguments to juries before they deliberate and discuss the law the judge has instructed them on regarding burdens of proof and evaluating evidence, they often tell them that they need not leave their common sense at the door when they enter the jury room to deliberate. …

Finally, there was Cohen’s demeanor. Before he testified, there was no way of knowing if he would be aggressive, combative, arrogant, indignant — the sort of traits that can be hallmarks of an unbelievable witness. Cohen was none of those things. He was serious and respectful. He absorbed the blows that were thrown his way without flinching and acknowledged his criminality. When Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) challenged Cohen’s remorse and acceptance of responsibility, Cohen pushed back strongly, looking straight at Jordan and telling him, “That’s not what I said” and noting he had pleaded guilty and taken responsibility for his actions in court. When he said, “Shame on you, Mr. Jordan,” it seemed likely that it was not only the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee who found themselves in agreement.

There is little doubt that on the committee, there is something close to a party-line split over whether Cohen was believable. For a swath of the public, and certainly for prosecutors evaluating whether they would be willing to put Cohen on the witness stand in a trial, the answer was not in doubt. Cohen made a statement in his written testimony that his performance Wednesday bore out: “The last time I appeared before Congress I came to protect Mr. Trump. Today, I’m here to tell the truth about Mr. Trump.”

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