Trump Lies About Paul Manafort and “Tim Apple”: A Closer Look

Seth takes a closer look at President Trump lying about everything from Paul Manafort’s sentencing to a meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Eric Prince argues that the Senate transcript of his testimony is wrong.

John Dean: I Testified Against Nixon. Here’s My Advice for Michael Cohen.

My appearance before Congress helped take down a president. Will the same thing happen to Trump?

Unlike Mr. Cohen, who testified in public for a day, I testified for five days. His prepared statement was about 4,000 words; mine was some 60,000 words. Nielsen reports over 16 million people watched his testimony. I am told over 80 million people watched all or part of mine.

While my testimony was eventually corroborated by secret recordings of our conversations made by Mr. Nixon, before that it was other witnesses who made the difference. I was surprised by the number of people who surfaced to support my account. The same, I suspect, will happen for Michael Cohen. The Mafia’s code of omertà has no force in public service. I have heard no one other than Roger Stone say he will go to jail for Donald Trump.

.. Mr. Cohen should understand that if Mr. Trump is removed from office, or defeated in 2020, in part because of his testimony, he will be reminded of it for the rest of his life. He will be blamed by Republicans but appreciated by Democrats. If he achieves anything short of discovering the cure for cancer, he will always live in this pigeonhole. How do I know this? I am still dealing with it.

Just as Mr. Nixon had his admirers and apologists, so it is with Mr. Trump. Some of these people will forever be rewriting history, and they will try to rewrite it at Mr. Cohen’s expense. They will put words in his mouth that he never spoke. They will place him at events at which he wasn’t present and locations where he has never been. Some have tried rewriting my life, and they will rewrite his, too.

I am thinking of people like Mr. Stone, the longtime Trump associate who worked on the 1972 Nixon campaign and so admires the former president that he has a tattoo of the man’s likeness between his shoulder blades. Mr. Stone, whom I never met while at the White House, has been indicted as part of the inquiry by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, on charges of lying to Congress about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign.

He prides himself as a political dirty trickster, and he has never met a conspiracy theory he did not believe. Mr. Cohen can be sure that Mr. Stone will promote new conspiracy theories to defend Mr. Trump and himself, even if it means rewriting history. Presidential scandals tend to attract a remarkable number of dishonest “historians.”

There is one overarching similarity that Mr. Cohen and I share. He came to understand and reject Mr. Trump as I did Mr. Nixon.

Mr. Nixon first called on me regarding Watergate some eight months after the arrests of his re-election committee operatives at the Watergate. We had 37 conversations, and when I felt I had his confidence, I tried but failed to get him to end the cover-up. The day I told Mr. Nixon there was a cancer on his presidency was the day I met the real Nixon. I knew I had to break rank.

Republicans’ Race to the Bottom

The absurdity of denying Trump’s bigotry.

It’s hard to say what’s a bigger taboo in American politics: being a racist, or calling someone one.

Sure, the Republican Party will occasionally try to distance itself from one of its more egregiously hateful members, like Representative Steve King of Iowa, who lost committee assignments after seeming to defend white nationalism. But mostly, right-wing politicians and their media allies pretend, to the point of farce, that the primary racial injustice in America involves white people unfairly accused of racism. This makes talking openly about the evident racism of our president harder than it should be.

To see how this works in microcosm, consider the House Oversight Committee hearing at which Donald Trump’s former consigliere Michael Cohen testified on Wednesday. Cohen said, in his opening statement, that, in addition to being a con man and a cheat, Trump is a racist. This should be clear to all people of good faith, given that Trump was a leading figure in the birther movement, defended white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville,and claimed he couldn’t get a fair hearing from a judge of Mexican heritage, to mention just a few examples.

But Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina, strenuously objected to Cohen’s description, and came up with what he seemed to think was an airtight rejoinder. Meadows, who is white, had Lynne Patton, an African-American woman and longtime Trump employee now at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, stand behind him, and quoted her saying that she would not work for a racist. Checkmate!

In the past, one person who would often publicly vouch for Trump’s non-racism was Omarosa Manigault Newman, the “Apprentice”-star-turned-White House aide. Then Manigault Newman came out with a book calling Trump “a racist, a bigot and a misogynist.” As part of her promotional tour for that book, she released an audio recording of a conversation she had with Patton and another African-American Trump supporter, Katrina Pierson, strategizing about how to handle the fallout should a tape surface of Trump using a racist slur. On the recording Patton, the person Meadows called upon as a character witness for the president, didn’t seem doubtful that Trump could have said such a thing.

Many liberals were agog at this stunt by Meadows; on the left it’s largely accepted that responding to charges of racism by pointing to black friends — never mind black employees — is clueless at best. Some white conservatives, however, seem convinced that you can’t be racist if you have an affectionate relationship with a person of color. And so when Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, called out Meadows toward the end of the hearing, he was so aggrieved he nearly melted down.

The “fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself,” said Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American. Red-faced, indignant and seemingly on the verge of tears, Meadows demanded that Tlaib’s words be stricken from the record, turned the charge of racism back on her, and said that he has nieces and nephews who are people of color. In a stunning dramatization of how racial dynamics determine whose emotions are honored, the hearing momentarily came to a halt so that Tlaib could assure Meadows that she didn’t mean to call him a racist, and the committee chairman, Elijah Cummings, who is African-American, could comfort him. “I could see and feel your pain,” Cummings told him.

This contradiction is behind some of the madness of our public life right now. Normalizing Trump, which has become a central mission of the Republican Party, depends on denial about what racism is. Not for the first time, Tlaib got in trouble for pointing out the obvious — the president is a bigot, and that in bringing out Patton to exonerate him, Meadows only demonstrated his own gross insensitivity.

On Thursday, Tlaib and Meadows reportedly had a warm conversation on the House floor; according to a CNN reporter, they hugged. I’m glad; given how much she’s been demonized in her short time in Congress, it’s probably in her interest to make Meadows feel better about their earlier exchange. Who knows, if she’s friendly enough, maybe he’ll be able to cite their relationship next time he’s caught saying something awful.

 

After Cohen’s testimony, how much longer can Ivanka Trump play dumb?

Ivanka plays dumb about Russia a lot to the media, telling ABC News that she knew “almost nothing” about the negotiations to open a massive Trump Tower in Russia that continued, as we now know, long into the general election campaign. But as Dan Friedman of Mother Jones has detailed, the evidence suggests otherwise. It was Ivanka who emailed Cohen in 2015 with a lead she thought could produce a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to secure the deal. She also reportedly suggested an architect for the Moscow tower. The building plans included a spa named after Ivanka and a notation that “all interior design elements of the spa or fitness facilities” were to be approved by her.

More broadly, Cohen’s testimony on Wednesday was a reminder that the Trump Organization wasn’t the sprawling corporation that Republicans would have people imagine, but a sparsely staffed and closely held family company. Unlike at a large corporation with a complicated hierarchy and many moving parts, the leadership of the Trump Organization — consisting of Donald Trump himself and his three eldest children — were intimately involved in the company’s dealings.  Under those circumstances, it’s preposterous to imagine Ivanka wasn’t involved in the Moscow talks, which were clearly geared towards one of the biggest projects — if not the very biggest — the Trump company had ever developed.

But so far, Ivanka has not received even close to the level of scrutiny her husband or brother has received. Even after Cohen’s testimony, the headlines have been more focused on Donald Trump Jr. than his sister:

Part of the difference is that Don Jr. has testified under oath about this project, and could now potentially be investigated for perjury. But sexism almost certainly plays a role, as well.

Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, bumbling idiots though they are, are men who wear expensive suits. They better fit the stereotype as the kind of person who might be involved in a conspiracy involving electoral meddling crimes and seedy real estate deals. Ivanka, however, presents herself a the “first daughter” — no one calls any of her brothers a “first son” — hiding behind the stereotype that women are involved in domestic matters and not criminal intrigue. Even Ivanka’s “businesswoman” persona is tilted towards the domestic, with an  emphasis on her fashion lines and not on her role in her father’s real estate empire.

Morality and Michael Cohen

Wednesday’s testimony and the crisis of American conscience.

I often wonder who didn’t love Donald Trump. I often wonder who left an affection void that he has tried to fill by winning attention, which is not the same thing. He’s turned his life into a marketing strategy. As Michael Cohen said in his testimony on Wednesday, even the presidential campaign was a marketing campaign to build the Trump brand.

In turning himself into a brand he’s turned himself into a human shell, so brittle and gilded that there is no place for people close to him to attach. His desperate attempts to be loved have made him unable to receive love.

Imagine what your own life would be like if you had no love in it, if you were just using people and being used. Trump, personifying the worst elements in our culture, is like a providentially sent gong meant to wake us up and direct us toward a better path.

Nonetheless, his kind of life has an allure for other lonely people who also live under the illusion that you can win love and respect with bling and buzz. Michael Cohen was one of these people. He testified that in serving Donald Trump he felt he was serving a cause larger than self. Those causes were celebrity and wealth.

.. Getting arrested seems to have been a good education for Cohen. He now realizes that Trump will not provide him with the sustenance he needs. I believe that Cohen basically told the truth in his testimony on Wednesday, but I don’t believe that he is a changed man.

There is none of the purgation of self and transformation of spirit that happens among people who have truly been altered. He’s just switched teams and concluded that the Democrats can now give him what he wants, so he says what appeals to them. That may be progress, but it is not moral renewal.

Cohen has left the Thugs for Trump club and passed that baton to certain House Republicans. I would have loved to have been in the strategy session when the House Republicans decided to be incurious about Trump’s sins and crimes but to rip the skin off Cohen.

Normal people have moral sentiments. Normal people are repulsed when the president of their own nation lies, cheats, practices bigotry, allegedly pays off porn star mistresses.

Were Republican House members enthusiastic or morose as they decided to turn off their own moral circuits, when they decided to be monumentally unconcerned by the fact that their leader may be a moral cretin?

Do they think that having anesthetized their moral sense in this case they will simply turn it on again down the road? Having turned off their soul at work, do they think they will be able to turn it on again when they go home to the spouse and kids?

How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Won the Cohen Hearing

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.

Republican focus on discrediting Cohen leaves little time to defend Trump

“I am so proud to take the @CPAC stage tomorrow morning w two of my heroes @RepMarkMeadows and @Jim_Jordan who were courageous in Congress today,” he wrote. “You speak for all of us.”

But former governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.), who is close to the president, said on ABC that he can “guarantee” Trump is “sitting in Vietnam right now, fuming that no one’s defending him.” He also argued the performance was “either a failure of those Republicans on the Hill or a failure of the White House to have a unified strategy with them.”

There hasn’t been one Republican yet who’s tried to defend the president on the substance,” he said. “As the day goes on, [people are] going to get tired of hearing the attacks on Cohen’s credibility. . . . Where’s the defense of the president?”

Other Republicans on the Hill privately agreed. Most, however, mused that Jordan couldn’t have done any better given his position in the minority and the fact that Republicans were defending Trump.

“Truthfully, it is tough to ignore some of the gross immoral behavior by the president,” said one senior House Republican who requested anonymity to speak frankly. “The reason there was no defense is because there is no defense.”

Jordan, a fierce Trump ally, said his strategy was working during a committee break Wednesday evening. His members had prepared and coordinated and “were in touch with all kinds of people” to get ready, he said — though he played coy when asked about coordination with White House.

GOP leaders were apprised of the strategy to discredit Cohen as untrustworthy. But they gave Jordan, who is known for his bulldog-like tactics grilling witnesses during hearings, free rein.

“We’re asking the questions that we think need to be asked,” Jordan said of his strategy. “We’re making the point that we think the American people need to understand, plain and simply.”

Jordan pointed to Rep. Thomas Massie’s (R-Ky.) line of questioning when pressed for an example of a defense of Trump. Massie had referenced Cohen’s written testimony, in which he said he paid money to a porn star without considering whether it was the right thing to do.

“Is that being a good lawyer? To not even consider whether it’s legal or not?” Massie asked. Cohen didn’t answer the question, merely arguing that he did what he thought Trump wanted.

The hearing marked Jordan’s first turn in the spotlight as the leader of the committee’s Republicans. Trump personally wanted him or his close friend Meadows to lead his defense against the Democrats. And many Republicans in the House, well-versed in Jordan’s tactics, agreed with the promotion.

When Republicans did try to defend Trump, their approach didn’t seem to elicit the intended effect. Meadows tried to parry Cohen’s allegation that Trump was a racist by inviting a longtime black friend of Trump’s, Lynne Patton, to stand behind him.

But the moment attracted criticism, when two black Democrats on the panel scoffed at Meadows’s suggestion that a person with a black friend could not possibly be a racist.

“Would you agree that someone could deny rental units to African Americans, lead the birther movement, refer to the diaspora as ‘shithole countries,’ refer to white supremacists as ‘fine people,’ have a black friend, and still be racist?” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), a freshman legislator, asked Cohen at one point.

The question was clearly for Meadows. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), another freshman, was less forgiving and even seemed to suggest Meadows was racist for bringing in a black woman and using her as “a prop” to defend the president.