Opinion: Cohen confronts congressional patsies eager to defend Trump

Yes, Michael Cohen is exactly as an unrelenting panel of Republicans painted him.

He’s a fraud, a cheat, a convicted felon. He violated federal campaign finance laws, committed bank fraud and tax fraud, and he lied to Congress. Soon he’ll be wearing a jumpsuit and eating from a plastic tray in federal prison.

But Cohen also has spent more time with President Donald Trump than any of the GOP representatives who tried so desperately this week to undercut Cohen’s testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Cohen’s job in the president’s world was to use whatever means necessary to protect what Trump values most: his brand and the income it generates.

In doing so, Cohen grew to instinctively understand Trump better than any of the Republicans at the hearing. That’s the fact that got their goat.

So the GOP representatives — with one notable exception — did their best to slam Cohen instead of taking the time to grill him while he was under oath. They didn’t want to learn more.

Republicans know Trump is exactly as Cohen portrayed him: a childish liar, a manipulative racist and a self-centered abuser of the office that he holds. They just don’t know what to do about it. Right now he’s their best bet to advance their agenda.

It’s that simple.

They also know that if they dare step out of line, the president will come after them too, first through bullying tweets, and then in a more substantial way by calling on his base to back a challenger for their office.

In fact, the day after Cohen testified before the House committee, Fox News aired a Sean Hannity interview with Trump. In it, the president threatened “great jeopardy” to any Republican who dared to challenge his authority to shift $6.7 billion in federal funding to build a wall at the southern border.

And thus Trump took another step toward binding the Republican Party’s fate to his own.

At one point during his testimony, Cohen was asked it if was exhausting to keep up with all of the lies that he was telling on behalf of Trump. He replied with an exasperated sign that he didn’t have an answer.

The reason ought to be obvious. At some point, he lost his moral compass, if he ever had one. Cohen committed his crimes as Trump’s “fixer” — that is, as the guy who was supposed to extricate Trump from legal and otherwise bad consequences for his misconduct. Somehow Cohen became a patsy, doing dirty deeds on behalf of Trump, and now he is taking the fall.

Having been caught up in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, Cohen had tried to lie to protect himself and the president. That only got him deeper in trouble. Now there’s little point in lying further, at least to himself.

The Republicans, however, are still firmly in the grip of denial. They are Trump’s patsies, too, but they haven’t arrived at their come-to-Jesus moment.

While they assailed his character, Trump’s fixer revealed a few things they weren’t expecting. For example, he is cooperating in an investigation by the Southern District of New York, presumably of Trump. He also revealed that Trump’s personal lawyers edited his prepared testimony in 2017 to Congress about Trump’s business dealings in Russia.

He also claimed that he was in the room when Roger Stone called Trump to reveal that WikiLeaks was about to release Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails, and that Trump, Donald Jr., and a Trump Organization executive all signed checks to reimburse Cohen’s hush money payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels.

But on the Republicans hyperventilated, wasting opportunity after opportunity to examine anything Cohen actually said in favor of grandstanding for their dear leader. Democrats on the committee, meanwhile, were gathering leads to follow up on.

One may reasonably contest Cohen’s moral or ethical reformation, but his warning to his Republican inquisitors was dead on: “I did the same thing that you’re doing. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years.”

It’s anybody’s guess where this wild ride will take Trump, but he’s got plenty of Republicans eager to ride shotgun.

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