There are important issues that we ought to be thrashing out in the run-up to the next Congressional and presidential elections.
These include immigration policy in general and whether we ought to switch from a lottery-based and chain migration system to one based on merit, and what we ought to do with the many millions of persons in the country illegally.
Equally important is whether we should continue to reduce regulation and lower taxes, as Republicans desire, or whether we should increase taxes on the wealthy and implement the climate-change influenced “Green New Deal” or the reparations policies advanced by Democrats.
Our parties are also fundamentally divided over questions about interpretation of the Constitution and the rule of law, with Democrats still committed to the view that judges should refashion the Constitution to meet “evolving standards of decency” and Republicans equally committed to Constitutional interpretation according to the framers’ original understanding of that document.
Instead of addressing these important matters, however, it is likely Americans and Congresspersons will be distracted by a continuing ad hominem attack on the character of the President and his and his family’s finances. These have little or nothing to do with the national interest, but, for some reason, the Democrats love to adhere to a political playbook of attempted personal destruction.
The latest absurdity was ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s appearance before the House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee. It was difficult to understand just what oversight or reform could be advanced by hearing from a lawyer egregiously breaching lawyer/client privilege, a man already convicted of lying to Congress and about to enter federal prison.
Republican members of the Committee pointed this out, especially the ranking member, Jim Jordan of Ohio, who began his first statement by suggesting that the hearing was cooked up by Cohen’s lawyer, Hillary Clinton consigliere Lanny Davis, as a means of politically damaging Mrs. Clinton’s nemesis, the man to whom she lost the presidential election.
When all was said and done there was relatively little damage done to the president, since Cohen was not able to furnish any proof of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, nor was he able to confirm the salacious details of the Clinton-campaign funded dossier prepared by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, which accused Donald Trump of cavorting in Moscow with prostitutes in 2013. If anything, Cohen effectively eviscerated the Russian collusion canard by emphatically denying the Steele dossier’s assertion that he was ever in Prague, so that he never met there with Eastern Bloc miscreants on Mr. Trump’s behalf.
It would appear that Mr. Cohen’s task, most likely scripted by Mr. Davis, was simply to engage in character assassination of the president. Thus, his accusation that Mr. Trump, for whom Mr. Cohen had presumably happily worked for many years, was “a racist,” “a cheat,” and “a con man.” As a convicted perjurer, Mr. Cohen’s assertions were anything but convincing to the Republicans, and the racist charge in particular was quite effectively rebutted by Lynn Patton, an African American Trump administration official who was invited to the hearing by North Carolina Republican Congressman Mark Meadows.
One of the strangest moments of the hearing, in fact, occurred when Michigan Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib accused Meadows of racist behavior, and Meadows was defended by the African-American chairman of the Committee Elijah Cummings. Congresswoman Tlaib apologized to Meadows, and they reportedly shared a hug on the House floor the next day.
This certainly suggests that the hearing was pretty purely an exercise in posturing, as does the remarkable text (drafted by Lanny Davis?) Cohen gave as his opening testimony. Of himself, Mr. Cohen stated, “I have lied, but I am not a liar. I have done bad things, but I am not a bad man.”
But of Mr. Trump, Mr. Cohen testified, “He is capable of behaving kindly, but he is not kind. He is capable of committing acts of generosity, but he is not generous. He is capable of being loyal, but he is fundamentally disloyal.” Cohen and Davis are both lawyers, and one or the other of them is certainly a master at exhibiting the lawyers’ storied art of pettifoggery. After all, a liar is one who lies, a bad man does bad things, one who behaves kindly is kind, one who performs generous acts is, by definition, generous, and how exactly can one be capable of being loyal if one is fundamentally disloyal?
Donald Trump is a former reality TV star, and one of the familiar notions regarding reality TV is that it is actually fakery. It was Mr. Trump’s opponents, however, who, at Mr. Cohen’s hearing, simply seemed to be reiterating talking points, and dabbling in irrelevance and unreality.
Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). Presser was recently appointed as a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.