Justice Department veterans say GOP attacks on Michael Cohen's credibility are 'amateurish' and 'laughable'

  • GOP lawmakers consistently attacked Michael Cohen’s credibility during an explosive hearing before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, calling him a “pathological liar” and a “patsy” for the Democrats.
  • But Justice Department veterans criticised the strategy, calling it “amateurish,” “idiotic,” and “laughable.”
  • “That’s an idiotic argument for an adult to make,” one former federal prosecutor told INSIDER.
  • “By definition, any cooperator who was involved in a criminal conspiracy at one point lied about it,” another former federal prosecutor told INSIDER.

President Donald Trump, his allies, and Republican lawmakers were relentless in their attacks on Michael Cohen this week. The GOP ripped into the former Trump lawyer, calling Cohen a convicted liar who cannot be trusted.

Cohen, Trump’s longtime former lawyer and fixer, took center stage on Wednesday when he testified before the House Oversight Committee about his relationship with the president.

In addition to calling Trump a “racist,” “cheat,” and “con man,” Cohen implicated him in criminal conduct while in office and revealed new details about ongoing criminal investigations into Trump’s businesses.

Republicans, meanwhile, made their strategy clear from the get-go: keep the focus on Cohen’s lies. To illustrate their effort, they propped up a poster on their side of the hearing room that featured a photo of Cohen with the caption, “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!”

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Reps. Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, both members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, pointed and shouted at Cohen during their questioning and illustrated the former Trump lawyer’s long history of questionable dealings before branding him a “patsy” for the Democrats.

Other GOP lawmakers got straight to the point.

“You’ve claimed that you’ve lied but you’re not a liar,” said Rep. Jody Hice, a Republican from Georgia. “Just to set the record straight, if you lied, you are a liar by definition.”

“You’re either incompetent or you are a liar,” said GOP Rep. Bob Gibbs.

Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar also chimed in: “You are a pathological liar. You don’t note truth from falsehood.”

Patrick Cotter, a longtime former federal prosecutor who was part of the team that convicted the Gambino crime family boss John Gotti, didn’t mince words when addressing GOP attacks against Cohen: “That’s an idiotic argument for an adult to make. People who cooperate with prosecutors are always convicted criminals. That’s the price of admission.”

Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Justice Department, largely agreed.

“By definition, any cooperator who was involved in a criminal conspiracy at one point lied about it,” he told INSIDER. “Prisons are full of people who were on trial where cooperators testified against them with supporting evidence. That’s how you prove those cases: you use someone from the inside.”

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‘It’s like condemning somebody for being a hitman when he’s testifying against the guy that hired him to do the hit’

Cohen pleaded guilty to several counts of tax evasion, bank fraud, campaign-finance violations, and lying to Congress. Since last year, he has been cooperating with federal prosecutors in several inquiries, including the FBI’s Russia investigation and the Southern District of New York’s investigation into Trump’s business and financial dealings.

On Wednesday, Cohen told lawmakers that he had lied and misled investigators to protect Trump. But “I am not protecting Mr. Trump anymore,” he said.

In court documents announcing Cohen’s guilty pleas in the Russia probe and the SDNY’s investigation, prosecutors wrote that Cohen admitted to committing crimes “in coordination with” and “at the direction of” an individual widely believed to be Trump.

On Wednesday, Cohen said the unnamed individual – described as Individual-1 in court filings – is the president. He also said Trump did not explicitly direct him to lie to Congress in 2017 about the now defunct Trump Tower Moscow deal.

But “in conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing,” Cohen said. “In his way, he was telling me to lie.”

Cotter pointed to Cohen’s statements, telling INSIDER, “If you’re going to condemn Cohen as a liar, how much more must you condemn the person who told him to lie and on whose behalf he lied?”

“It’s ridiculous and amateurish,” he added. “It’s like condemning somebody for being a hitman when he’s testifying against the guy that hired him to do the hit. You made him a hitman. That’s why he’s your guy. It’s laughable, and in a criminal case, that strategy would go nowhere.”

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‘It’s true that Cohen is a liar… but he’s Trump’s convicted liar’

Legal scholars said the GOP’s argument that Cohen has a credibility crisis was also weakened by the fact that he provided documentation to support some of his claims about Trump’s character and alleged criminal conduct.

For instance, he provided to the committee a copy of a check for $US35,000, signed by Trump, that was dated August 1, 2017.

The check, Cohen said, was “pursuant to the cover-up, which was the basis of my guilty plea, to reimburse me – the word used by Mr. Trump’s TV lawyer – for the illegal hush money I paid on his behalf [to the adult film star Stormy Daniels]. This $US35,000 check was one of 11 check installments that was paid throughout the year – while he was president.”

Cohen added that Trump gave him the check “as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.”

“It’s true that Cohen is a liar,” Cramer said. “He’s a convicted liar, but he’s Trump’s convicted liar. And if he’s got documents proving what he’s saying, I don’t care that Cohen is a convicted liar. If he has documents, you should believe those documents because that’s corroborating evidence.”

He added: “If there are more documents like that – and I suspect there are and that prosecutors have them – that’s legally significant, because it puts the president in the crosshairs as an unindicted co-conspirator.”

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