The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

More than two-thirds of Republican questioning at the Cohen hearing was attacking Cohen

Another 20 percent attacked Democrats or the hearing itself.

During his public congressional testimony on Feb. 27, President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen repeatedly sparred with Republican lawmakers. (Video: Jenny Starrs, Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
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You could say that there was a theme to Republican questioning of President Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen during a House Oversight Committee hearing Wednesday. Time and again, Republican representatives reiterated the same disparaging information about Cohen — that he’d admitted to lying to Congress in the past, that he’d admitted to committing multiple felonies — in an effort to undercut Cohen’s credibility.

The only thing that came close as a target of Republican opprobrium was the hearing itself. That began with the first comments from Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the committee’s ranking Republican.

“Mr. Chairman, here we go. Here we go,” Jordan said, speaking to Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the committee’s chairman. “Your first big hearing, your first announced witness, Michael Cohen. I want everyone in this room to think about this: The first announced witness for the 116th Congress is a guy who is going to prison in two months for lying to Congress.”

“Mr. Chairman,” Jordan added, “your chairmanship will always be identified with this hearing.” That may well be true, but not in the sense Jordan means.

The density of those attacks on the hearing (and the Democrats who called it) and the repetition of attacks on Cohen himself made us curious about just how often each had occurred. So we pulled every set of questions or comments offered by Republicans on the committee and catalogued them into four categories: Attempted impeachment of Cohen, criticism of the hearing, actual efforts to undercut Cohen’s testimony and other comments or questions.

At the bottom of this article is every comment organized into two (long) columns. (Notes on our methodology are down there, too.) We’ve taken our color-coding from that graphic and made a smaller, more digestible version, below.

Highlighted is each time a Republican actually challenged Cohen’s testimony itself. Those challenges:

  • Rep. Mark Meadows’s (R-N.C.) introduction of a black administration staffer in an effort to undercut Cohen’s claims that Trump is racist.
  • Jordan asking Cohen about his claim that Trump told him indirectly to lie about a proposed real estate development in Moscow.
  • Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) questioning Cohen about his lawyer’s failing to challenge a BuzzFeed News article claiming that Trump told Cohen to lie to Congress.
  • Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) stating that Cohen’s assertion that Trump didn’t expect to win was false.
  • Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) questioning Cohen about payments he received from Trump to repay his hush-money payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels.
  • Jordan questioning details of those same payments.

You’ll notice some subjectivity here. Meadows’s effort to prove Cohen wrong about Trump’s racism, for example, was not itself well-rooted in evidence. Grothman’s rebuttal to Cohen on Trump’s expectations consisted of little more than Grothman saying that, no, he thought Trump did expect to win.

But they were, at least, direct efforts to rebut Cohen’s testimony and not just disparage Cohen as an untrustworthy crook.

Looking at the number of actual words spoken, about 69 percent of what Republicans said in the hearing was associated with efforts to disparage Cohen. Another 20 percent was spent trying to diminish the hearing, the Democrats or, in one case, the FBI and the Russia investigation. Attempts to challenge Cohen’s actual testimony made up only 8 percent of what Republicans talked about.

This was not a courtroom. A central metric for members of Congress, naturally, was the politics that resulted from their questioning. For Republicans, clearly, disparaging the hearing and Cohen was seen as a political asset.

That belief was probably not without reason.

Below, every question asked by Republicans. We excluded two extended back-and-forths, the debate over delaying the hearing at its outset and the fight that ensued when Meadows felt as though he’d been called a racist. Transitions between members were included in the existing pattern of questioning. Comments that consisted solely of handing off questioning weren’t included in the analysis.