With the possible impeachment of the president at stake, the leading Democrat and Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform clashed at the start of a hearing with President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, each attempting to put his explosive testimony in the best light for their party.
The ranking Republican, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, accused the committee’s chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., of holding the hearing to damage Trump, and denounced Cohen as a “fraudster, cheat [and] convicted felon.”
Cohen has pleaded guilty to numerous charges, stemming in part from his work for Trump over a decade and from his personal financial dealings.
“Mr. Chairman, your chairmanship will always be identified with this hearing,” Jordan said in his opening statement. “We all need to understand what this is. This is the Michael Cohen hearing presented by Lanny Davis. That’s right, Lanny Davis choreographed the whole darn thing.”
Davis, former lawyer to President Bill Clinton, was hired by Cohen to represent him and was seated behind Cohen during Wednesday’s hearing.
According to Jordan, the hearing itself was Davis’s idea.
“He had to talk Michael Cohen into coming,” Jordan said. “And most importantly, he had to persuade the chairman to actually have it.”
Cohen was originally supposed to testify on Feb. 8, but asked for a delay because of what he said were “threats against his family” by Trump and his associates. He is due to report to federal prison in May.
“This might be the first time someone convicted of lying to Congress has appeared again so quickly in front of Congress,” Jordan said. “Certainly, it’s the first time a convicted perjurer has been brought back to be a star witness in a hearing. And there’s a reason this is a first: because no other committee would do it.”
Cohen testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors on Tuesday and is scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence Committee, also in secret, on Thursday.
Jordan accused Cummings of limiting the panel’s subjects to “only those you think are going to be harmful to the president of the United States.”
“They gotta find somebody, somewhere, to say something so they can try to remove the president from office,” Jordan said.
Cummings, in his opening statement, said he agreed there were legitimate questions about Cohen’s credibility as a witness, but noted that Cohen was bringing documents to back up some of his most damaging testimony.
The committee began the day by voting down, on party lines, a Republican motion to delay the hearing.
“Where I disagree fundamentally with the ranking member involves efforts to prevent the American people from hearing from Mr. Cohen,” Cummings said. “Mr. Cohen’s testimony raises grave questions about the legality of President Donald Trump’s conduct and the truthfulness of statements while he was president.”
In a prepared opening statement to the committee, Cohen testified that Trump is a “racist,” a “con man” and a “cheat” who knew ahead of time that WikiLeaks had emails that were damaging to his rival Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
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