|© RICHARD CODOR FOR KIKO'S HOUSE|
the wall's caved in' " ~ GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (The Grateful Dead)
It was a split-screen saga that would have more than lived up to its hyper-hyped billing were it not such a devastating reminder of the parlous condition of a once great country known as the United States.
On one screen was Donald Trump, a boy-man profoundly unfit to be president in twisted pursuit of a Nobel Peace Prize as he groveled before Kim Jung Un, the North Korean despot who has starved to death millions of his own people. On the other screen was Michael Cohen, Trump's longtime fixer, who confirmed that the then-future president was in the loop on his campaign's collusion with America's arch enemy in its successful cyberespionage of the 2016 election and that his associates did not have to be told by him to lie. They did so instinctively.
And all the while those of us who bleed red, white and blue looked on in horror as the hours ticked by and wondered, "How did it come to this?"
Why is Trump not only still president, methodically demolishing our core values, alienating our most important allies and coddling Kim, Vladimir Putin and other authoritarians, but carries on his reign of terror with the support of an outsized number of voters -- that would be his mythic "base" -- and pretty much the entire Republican Party?
"I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump's illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience," a contrite Cohen stated in prepared remarks at the outset of five hours of sometimes riveting testimony as the Democratic-led House Oversight and Reform Committee fired the opening shots in the long overdue offensive to drive Trump from office.
Some pundits hastened to call Cohen's damning testimony the first hearing in Trump's impeachment, but whether those opening shots will further damage the already wounded Trump, who has survived as he skates from scandal to scandal and crisis to crisis, is another matter.
"I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a con man. And he is a cheat," declared Cohen, who had the appearance of a broken man awaiting prison as the dark and puffy circles under his eyes seemed to grow larger as the day went on.
Meanwhile, 12 time zones away Trump schmoozed with Kim over a meal of king crab, foie gras and lotus seeds in Hanoi prior to the collapse of their second one-on-one summit meeting while a bunkered White House and Republican members of the committee, infirmly in their own alternate universe, lashed out at Cohen as a felon and liar.
Trump's personal lawyer of more than a decade had postponed his House testimony because of what his lawyers said were threats against he and his family. Those threats -- textbook examples of witness intimidation -- have continued, most notably from Trump himself in one of his more brazen displays of believing himself to be above the law.
Cohen's description of Trump as a kind of mendacious mob boss was similar to that of aides and others who have parted ways with him, but the big takeaway from his half of the split screen saga is that this president -- who willingly entered into a conspiracy whether you want to call it collusion or not -- is still very much under investigation, possibly in multiple probes.
There also were these incendiary morsels:
* Trump knew WikiLeaks would release material stolen from the Democratic National Committee before it happened and would coordinate presidential campaign events accordingly because he got the heads-up from Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone, his longest serving adviser.
* Cohen said was present when Donald Trump Jr. walked around his father's desk and told him in a low voice that the forthcoming June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting where a Russian cutout was going to dish dirt on Hillary Clinton was "all set" and Trump replied, "OK, good . . . let me know."
* Cohen said that while he pursued a huge payday for Trump with the Trump Tower Moscow project through negotiations led by Felix Sater with Putin associates, he frequently briefed candidate Trump on updates even as Trump repeatedly denied having any business involvement in Russia.
* Regarding what he should say to prosecutors, Cohen said Trump told him, "Michael, there's no collusion, there's no Russia, there's no involvement, no [election] interference," and was told to allow presidential lawyer Jay Sekulow to edit his congressional testimony, which was later revealed to be false.
* Confirming the widely held belief that Trump has wildly exaggerated his personal fortune, Cohen cited 2013 -- a year Trump claimed that his net worth nearly doubled from $4.6 billion to $8.6 billion -- in explaining that Trump simply assigned a massive $4 billion value to his "brand value."
* Trump directed Cohen to use "my own personal funds . . . to avoid any money being traced back to him that could negatively impact his campaign" in making a hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels and, after he had become president, reimbursed Cohen with a $35,000 personal check.
* Cohen said that even before he went to work for Trump in 2007, National Enquirer owner David Pecker was engineering so-called catch and kill deals in addition to the publicly revealed deal with Playboy model Karen McDougal to buy the silence of women who had affairs with Trump.
Trump, of course, has built on his astounding litany of thousands of lies by denying knowing about the WikiLeaks tipoffs and the Trump Tower meeting, feigning ignorance about Trump Tower Moscow and equivocating about hush-money payments.
From the moment that Cohen concluded his prepared remarks and the questioning began, it was obvious that committee Republicans were not going to contest the specifics of his testimony because they would have ended up digging an even deeper hole for their beleaguered president. So they sought to discredit Cohen, asserting that he was merely a disgruntled employee who didn't get a White House job and is angling for a lucrative book deal. They impugned his character because they couldn't impugn the incriminating documents he produced.
Meanwhile, committee Democrats seemed content to draw out Cohen on his prepared remarks rather than break new ground. Disappointing.
The execrable Jim Jordan of Ohio led the Republic attack on Cohen's character, calling him a "fraudster, cheat, convicted felon and, in two months, a federal inmate."
Provoked at one point, Cohen shot back, "Shame on you, Mr. Jordan. I made mistakes, I own them, and I didn't fight with [prosecutors for] the Southern District of New York . . . what I did do is I pled guilty and I am going to be going to prison."
"Sitting here today, it seems unbelievable that I was so mesmerized by Donald Trump that I was willing to do things for him that I knew were absolutely wrong, . . . [but] "being around Mr. Trump was intoxicating."
Cohen sidestepped a question about his last conversation with Trump, which occurred about two months after the FBI raided his Manhattan office and home in April.
"There are ongoing investigations currently being conducted that have nothing to do with this committee or Congress that I am assisting in," Cohen relied.
Near the conclusion of Cohen's testimony, he finally was asked a straight question by a Republican.
"Mr. Cohen, I don't know whether we should believe you today, but I'm going to ask you this one last question," said Representative Justin Amash of Minnesota. "What is the truth that you know President Trump fears most?”
Cohen seemed taken aback and shook his head for a while before concluding in a most un-John Dean way that it was a "tough question" that he didn’t have an answer for.
Having struck a deal to cooperate with federal prosecutors in connection with his guilty pleas on eight charges, including lying to Congress about Trump Tower Moscow, Cohen begins a three-year prison sentence in May.
He has been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team for some 70 hours, and of one thing we can be absolutely certain. Mueller knowns a great deal more about Trump's criminality than Cohen let on.
Now if we could only figure out how it came to this.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.