Ex-prosecutor explains why Michael Cohen's testimony is so credible — even given his past lies

Ex-prosecutor explains why Michael Cohen's testimony is so credible — even given his past lies
PBS Newshour
News & Politics

Republicans' strategy to fight Michael Cohen's damaging testimony about President Donald Trump on Wednesday was simple: attack, attack, attack. And they had some decent arguments to make, to their credit. Cohen is already a convicted liar, so why should lawmakers believe him going forward?


But Cohen's testimony as a whole, while deeply disparaging to Trump, did not come off as a complete smear job. He called the president a racist, a liar, and a conman, but he provided detailed and specific examples of these kinds of behaviors to prove his point, some of which were backed up by documentary evidence. And all these claims were consistent with what is publicly known about the president.

"I think he's doing fantastic," said former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah. "He seems to be saying what he really knows."

She elaborated on Twitter: "In other words - if he were lying, he would make ... up a better story. He seems to be stating the facts as he knows them not embellishing. SCO said this about his debriefs with them in their sentencing letter recommendation."

Indeed, Special Counsel Robert Mueller said in a sentencing memo about Cohen: "His statements beginning with the second meeting with the SCO have been credible, and he has taken care not to overstate his knowledge or the role of others in the conduct under investigation."

For example, on Wednesday, he said he didn't believe some of the damaging rumors that have persisted about Trump. In particular, he said he doesn't believe that the Russian "pee tape" exists, that he doesn't believe Trump had a love child, and that he doesn't believe there is video showing him hitting First Lady Melania Trump in an elevator.

On this last point, he even went a step further, and said he knew that this didn't happen because he knows that the president wouldn't hurt Melania in this way. This was a positive word about Trump's character that Cohen didn't need to utter — especially if his sole goal were to disparage the president — but he said it anyway.

He also said complimentary things about the first lady, noting that he deeply regretted lying to her about his efforts to cover up Trump's alleged affair with Stormy Daniels.

And when Cohen discussed some of the more damaging allegations against the president, he seemed restrained and didn't go as far as he could have. He said, for example, that while he believed Donald Trump Jr. told his father about a meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, he didn't hear the pair explicitly discuss this fact. And Cohen also denied that Trump explicitly asked him to lie about his Trump Tower Moscow negotiations to Congress. Instead, he said that this expectation was implied, but not stated directly.

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