It wasn’t that long ago that Michael Cohen and congressional Republicans were on the same side.
In 2017, President Trump’s former personal attorney was on Capitol Hill to defend his boss, in testimony he now admits contained lies. Since then, in the wake of what Cohen called “the daily destruction of our civility to one another,” the former fixer flipped on the president and pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, tax evasion and other criminal activity.
On Wednesday, in a packed congressional hearing room, Cohen issued a blunt warning to the Republican lawmakers trying to discredit and rattle him in defense of the president.
“I did the same thing that you’re doing now for 10 years. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years,” Cohen told his former allies. “I can only warn people. The more people that follow Mr. Trump — as I did blindly — are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.”
It was one of several hostile exchanges between Cohen and Republicans during the daylong hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, considered one of the most rambunctious panels on Capitol Hill.
It was also the first in what could be a long series of Democratic House hearings investigating the presidency.
Cohen, who is headed to prison in two months for as long as three years, expressed a combination of remorse and contrition for a 10-year career working for Trump.
Well-prepared and well-spoken, he mostly remained calm as GOP lawmakers methodically detailed his past crimes and repeated lies, making little effort to defend or explain beyond claiming it was all to protect Trump.
At times he appeared frustrated with the relentless GOP line of questioning. When Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) called him a “pathological liar,” Cohen snapped back, “Are you referring to me or the president?”
He even tried to claim the high ground when Republicans’ criticisms grew personal. At one point, they hung a banner in the hearing room that read, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”
Cohen said he blamed himself for a “silly” taunt that he called “really unbecoming of Congress. It’s that sort of behavior that I’m responsible for.”
Later he accused Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) of intentionally twisting his words. “Shame on you, Mr. Jordan.” And then he chastised Republicans for not focusing on the actions of Trump.
“I just find it interesting, sir, that between yourself and your colleagues that not one question so far since I’m here has been asked about President Trump,” he said. “That’s actually why I thought I was coming today, not to confess the mistakes that I’ve made.”
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, is sworn in to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington.(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
(Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press)
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) questions Michael Cohen as he testifies before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
makes closing remarks after testimony from Michael Cohen.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Michael Cohen, former attorney to President Donald J. Trump, becomes emotional while listening to the closing remarks of House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings(Michael Reynolds / EPA / Shutterstock)
At one point, Republican critics hung a banner in the hearing room that read, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, (D-N.Y.) questions Michael Cohen as he testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
An image of a check signed by President Trump, that was allegedly used for hush money, is displayed on a screen as Michael Cohen makes his opening statement before the House Oversight Committee.(JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/REX / JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/REX)
A quote about Michael Cohen, attributed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, is put on display during testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill February 27, 2019 in Washington, DC.(Alex Wong / Getty Images)
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) questions Michael Cohen as he testifies before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
(Jim Lo Scalzo/ EPA / Shutterstock)
Michael Cohen arrives to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill.(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
Republicans responded with outrage that the committee’s new Democratic leaders would provide a forum to a witness who just months ago admitted he lied to Congress.
For Republicans, the hearing served as their first opportunity to show how aggressively they would defend the president from what is likely to be a wave attacks from Democrats in the House. They did not hold back.
Cohen is “a guy who is going to prison in two months for lying to Congress,” said Jordan. “This might be the first time someone convicted of lying to Congress has appeared again so quickly in front of Congress. Certainly it’s the first time a convicted perjurer has been brought back to be a star witness in a hearing.”
Republicans, newly disposed to the minority and seemingly unprepared for Cohen’s feistiness, landed few blows that will last beyond the day’s news cycle.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) tried to accuse Cohen of lying on a form to the committee in which Cohen said he didn’t have any contracts with foreign entities in the last two years. But the form only asked about contracts with foreign governments.
Cohen may have added to his credibility by debunking some of the more colorful allegations against Trump, such as unfounded domestic violence rumors or speculation he had a “love child.” Cohen also said he had not seen proof of collusion between Trump and Russia or other foreign governments.
“If he was just gung-ho to get the president, he would have said, ‘Sure, he colluded,’” said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), a member of the committee. “He was very measured in his remarks and I think that helped his credibility.”
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said Cohen’s testimony, including copies of checks he provided to the panel purporting to be Trump’s payoff to hide an extramarital affair, would need to be verified before they could be deemed credible.
“That needs to be assessed but, you know, a lot of it was partisan theater,” he said. “He presented some documentation. There are signatures on there. There are people you could ask to corroborate things.”
It’s unclear whether any voters’ minds were changed by the hearing. But that may not matter.
Republicans’ and Democrats’ questions were seemingly from different planets, said Republican strategist Doug Heye, “which means credibility is in the eye of the beholder.”
“If you’re a Trump supporter, nothing that happened is going to change your mind. If you oppose Trump, nothing that happened is going to change your mind,” he said. “And most minds were made up well before this hearing.”
Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire contributed to this report.