Too many representatives chose to bloviate instead of interrogate — except for one.
But like so many congressional hearings, the fireworks were quick to flame out. Even with the tantalizing opportunity to grill Mr. Cohen on the myriad ways his former boss most likely sought to evade the law and avoid his creditors, many members of the committee, from both parties, could not resist their usual grandstanding.
Consider the line of questioning from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. She asked Mr. Cohen a series of specific questions about how Mr. Trump had handled insurance claims and whether he had provided accurate information to various companies. “To your knowledge,” she asked, “did Donald Trump ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?” He had.
She asked whether Mr. Trump had tried to reduce his local taxes by undervaluing his assets. Mr. Cohen confirmed that the president had also done that. “You deflate the value of the asset and then you put in a request to the tax department for a deduction,” Mr. Cohen said, explaining the practice. These were the sort of questions, and answers, the committee was supposed to elicit. Somehow, only the newer members got the memo.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez continued, asking, “Do you think we need to review financial statements and tax returns in order to compare them?” She pressed Mr. Cohen for the names of others who would be able to corroborate the testimony or provide documents to support the charges. In response, Mr. Cohen listed the executives
- Allen Weisselberg,
- Ron Lieberman and
- Matthew Calamari —
names that, thanks in part to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, we will probably hear more about in the coming months.
These questions were not random, but, rather, well thought out. Like a good prosecutor, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was establishing the factual basis for further committee investigation. She asked one question at a time, avoided long-winded speeches on why she was asking the question, and listened carefully to his answer, which gave her the basis for a follow-up inquiry. As a result, Mr. Cohen gave specific answers about Mr. Trump’s shady practices, along with a road map for how to find out more. Mr. Cohen began his testimony calling Mr. Trump a “con man and a cheat”; In just five minutes, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez actually helped him lay out the facts to substantiate those charges.
The ability to ask open-ended questions is very important, whether you’re in product management, education, counseling/therapy, sales, or journalism. On the surface, it seems relatively easy to tell the difference between an open ended question (“How are you feeling?”) versus a closed-ended one (“Do you like your job?”).
Remember, Jesus never said, “You must be right!” or even that it was important to be right. He largely talked about being honest and humble (which is probably our only available form of rightness).
.. Such admitted poverty in words should keep us humble, curious, and searching for God. Yet the ego doesn’t like such uncertainty. So, it’s not surprising that the history of the three monotheistic religions, in their first few thousand years, has largely been the proclaiming of absolutes and dogmas. In fact, we usually focus on areas where we can feel a sense of order and control—things like finances, clothing, edifices, roles, offices, and who has the authority. In my experience, I observe that the people who find God are usually those who are very serious about their quest and their questions. It is said that asking good questions is a sign of intelligence. But Western culture has spent centuries admiring and promoting people who supposedly have all the answers—which, too often, they have read or heard from someone else.