Michael Cohen’s testimony last week before the House Committee on Oversight reminded me of the last sentence in Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s open letter to David Pecker, American Media CEO, in defiance of Pecker’s alleged attempt at extortion: “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.”
We can think of Cohen as a log, and when he rolled over last week, some strange and ugly things slithered forth.
Republicans were keen to argue that Cohen revealed nothing new, but that’s untrue. For one thing, Cohen produced more evidence of Donald Trump’s participation — while president — in a scheme to cover up felony violations of election finance law. Evidence isn’t identical to proof, of course, but Cohen pointed the committee in the direction of more evidence, which could eventually turn into proof.
Cohen revealed other illuminating details about the character of the president. Some were mentioned only in passing, overshadowed by more dramatic revelations of evidence of criminal activities and shady connections to the WikiLeaks dumps.
For example, what kind of man tasks his lawyer with the intimidation of the colleges and schools he attended by threat of legal action if his grades ever became public?
What about Cohen’s allegation that Trump was unable to produce medical records related to the “bone spurs” that kept him out of the army? According to Cohen, Trump said, “You think I’m stupid? I’m not going to Vietnam!”
Then there’s Cohen’s allegation that Trump is a racist. Of course, Trump wouldn’t be the first racist to occupy the White House. Some of our presidents were slaveholders and Indian killers, and the tapes that emerged from the Watergate investigation revealed how Nixon felt about Jews.
Still, it’s jarring to hear someone who was as close to Trump as Cohen — a confidant of more than a decade — allege that Trump has said that blacks were too stupid to vote for him. Or that Trump challenged Cohen to name any nation run by a black man that wasn’t a “s-------.”
Of course, it’s not against the law to be a racist, and Cohen’s testimony is allegation rather than proof. Still, it has the ring of truth. The Trump family — including the president — has a long, well-documented history of wrangles with the Department of Justice over its reluctance to rent properties to black families. Trump speaks with barely concealed contempt for black and brown people and their countries, which, according to him, are rife with drugs, crime and incompetence.
Then there’s Charlottesville and Trump’s failure to unequivocally call out white supremacists. Or his insinuation that an American judge of Mexican heritage wouldn’t be fair to him in court.
In short, the man that Cohen reveals is an unprincipled, self-indulgent racist who has no scruples about paying hush money to porn stars and then lying about it. So Cohen says. But even the Republicans on the committee didn’t bother to dispute most of what Cohen said about Trump. The part we didn’t already know sounds so much like Trump that it’s difficult for any American to be terribly shocked by much of anything Cohen said during his testimony.
But here’s what caught my attention: What about the spooky revelation that the president’s personal lawyer and intimate of more than a decade is worried that if Trump isn’t re-elected in 2020, he will not relinquish power peacefully?
Others have raised this concern, but we haven’t paid much attention. And coming, as it did, near the end of Cohen’s six hours of testimony, it could easily fall into the cracks between all of the other sordid insights into Trump’s character.
But a graceful transfer of power after four years of Trump, without allegations of rigged elections, fake news and voter fraud is harder to imagine than that Trump might encourage, tacitly or patently, his ever-faithful and well-armed base to take to the streets. This is something that no one could have imagined when we elected Trump president, but it should probably concern us more than anything else Cohen said.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at email@example.com