American Politics Needs Help
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The testimony by Michael Cohen before the House Oversight and Investigation Committee on Wednesday demonstrated many things, but the most serious observation was how it exemplified the sad state of American politics. There were many allegations that Cohen made and corroborative evidence that he produced which conceivably could be used against President Trump, the Trump family, and Trump companies. Cohen pulled few punches. He explained how Trump dealt with him, and how Cohen operated as Trump’s lawyer and fixer.
The essence of Cohen’s presentation was to try to convince the House Committee that he accepted his punishment and did not seek intersession. Cohen appeared as a convicted felon who had lied to Congress and the American people. The Democrats attacked him from various angles to try to gain greater insight and incriminating evidence against the President and his band of cronies.
Most of the Democrats stayed on point and sought to use the investigatory power of Congress to gain information concerning possible illegal conduct by the President and his associates. While some of the Democrats sought to investigate activities, which have been alleged by scurrilous news sources about Trump’s illicit outrages, most of the questioning was direct.
On the other hand, the Committee Republicans spent the day focused on discrediting the witness and repeatedly hammering him for the untruths which he openly had admitted. All he wanted was their attention to what he now was saying and not to challenge and comment on his previous testimony. The Members only questioned his newly found “honesty” and credibility, but Cohen was arguing that at least his testimony should not be dismissed or disregarded; especially as he and the Committee were well equipped to challenge and/or corroborate whatever he was alleging. Instead, what occurred was a tragic scene for American politics. For the Republicans there was no recognition that the matter before the Committee concerned immoral and probably illegal activities committed by the current President of the United States.
One needed only revisit the 1973 Watergate Committee hearings to recall how far this Congress has sunk and the American political system has gone awry. The Republican Members of that Committee, which was investigating the break-in at Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate Complex, performed totally differently than the Republican Members of the House Government Oversight Committee did yesterday. Life-long Republican Senators Howard Baker, Edward Gurney, and Lowell Weicker were no less partisan than Representatives Jim Jordan or Meadows. The Republican Watergate Committee Members were as loyal and committed to President Richard Nixon as were any of the GOP Members on the panel yesterday. They were, however, as aggressive in their substantive questioning of John Dean—the Watergate Committee’s incarnation of Michael Cohen—as was Committee Chairman Sam Ervin and all his Democratic colleagues. These Senators understood what their responsibility to serve as a U.S. Senator meant. They comprehended their duty to do their job.
If the alleged actions of Donald Trump get corroborated and factually are confirmed by this Congress and by the Special Counsel, yesterday suggested that it is not clear whether any Republicans are prepared to take their responsibilities seriously and pursue justice to its logical conclusion. At this point there are no Republican Members of Congress or former Members or even President George W. Bush, who might be ready to place the country ahead of party. Ultimately, it may only be the Courts or the American voters who will save the country.