Kimberly P. Yow

Kimberly P. Yow

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If lying was an art, Michael Cohen would be a Rembrandt. Why does he keep getting a pass?

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If lying were an art form, former Trump fixer Michael Cohen would be its Rembrandt. 

Throughout his career, the disbarred lawyer has found powerful clients who valued his reputation for supporting any side that offered the biggest payback. 

Now he is accused of yet another lie under oath and the question is whether his current benefactors will again protect him from a criminal charge.

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For years, Cohen was the heavy for Donald Trump who threatened everyone from journalists to students with ruin for threatening the former president.

Faced with disbarment and criminal charges, he then became an equally vicious critic of Trump; a human cudgel for Democrats. The most remarkable about his checkered career is the one constant: a long, uninterrupted line of lies upon lies. Indeed, he is now accused of lying about prior lies.

I have been a critic of Cohen for years, going back to work as a legal thug for Trump. That criticism continued after Cohen sought to raise money from Democrats as a Trump killer as opposed to a Trump enabler. Those of us familiar with his history warned about the notion that he was now a “liberated former liar.”

As expected, the sides changed but the lies continued.

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He would appear as the new star Democratic witness before House Oversight Committee chairman, Elijah Cummings, and was promptly accused of lying under oath again. Cummings, who would later chair the January 6th Committee, refused to take any action against Cohen. He had again found a powerful ally who valued his moral flexibility.

Even after being stripped of his bar license and sentenced to three years in prison, Cohen continued the pattern. In 2019, Cohen failed to appear to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, citing the inability to travel due to a medical surgery. However, he was seen partying before the hearing date with five friends with no apparent problems.

Even in jail, Cohen was accused of lying to a court in violation of an order for early release due to medical problems. He was ordered back into custody after being spotted at a high-end restaurant.

Nevertheless, Cohen has few illusions about his sudden alliance with media outlets and Democratic figures. He does not have to be truthful; he has to be useful.

That celebrated role continued this year when Cohen was called to testify in the New York fraud case brought by Attorney General Letitia James. It mattered little to James that Cohen is a serial liar. Yet, even her office may have been surprised with the ease with which Cohen now admits to false statements.

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During his recent testimony, Cohen was confronted by statements about Trump inflating the value of his properties that directly contradicted his sworn testimony before Congress. Most witnesses would be petrified by the prospect of admitting lying under oath. Most would refuse to testify under the Fifth Amendment. Not Cohen. He simply seemed to shrug it off and admitted that he previously lied under oath in 2019 before Congress.

In testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on February 28, 2019, Cohen was asked about the same alleged violation and responded: “I’m sorry. Did he ask me to inflate the numbers? Not that I recall, no.”

When read that answer in New York, Cohen admitted that he was not being “honest” with Congress. Trump attorney Alina Habba then asked him: “So you lied under oath in February of 2019? Is that your testimony?” Cohen replied “yes.”

For Cohen, the admission of a lie is hardly a significant moment. He pleaded guilty to felonies including false statements to banks in 2018. After professing his profound guilt and remorse, he was sentenced to three years. He then later said that he really did not mean it in denying aspects of the plea.

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After that plea and then denying the sworn plea, Cohen was called to give testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. He now says that he proceeded to lie again.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner and House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik have sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland for an investigation into the admitted false testimony.

This would seem an embarrassingly easy case for a prosecutor. A serial liar just admitted under oath that he lied previously under oath. There is a five-year statute of limitations on lying to Congress.

Moreover, this is the attorney general who aggressively pursued Trump officials and associates for contempt and other violations linked to congressional investigations. It is also the same department that prosecuted figures like Gen. Michael Flynn for false statements made to FBI agents.

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For Cohen, the key to his career has been to lie to the right people at the right time. It is now up to Garland whether he will join a long line of powerful allies covering for Cohen.

Cohen may be able to again evade real punishment. When he was still thumping people for Trump, Cohen told the reporter that he should “tread very f—ing lightly because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. Do you understand me?”

When it comes to the legal system, Cohen is ironically true to his word. What he has done to the legal system for decades is truly disgusting. The New York bar took no action for years until Cohen confessed to crimes to secure a plea deal. 

Past incidents of alleged perjury before Congress were ignored because prosecution would have been inconvenient. Now he has nonchalantly acknowledged lying under oath in 2019 after pleading guilty to criminal falsehoods.

The problem is not Cohen. He continues to act to his nature. The problem is a political and legal system that enables him as a serial liar. It is a system that continues to call Cohen to the stand and ask him to swear to God to offer the “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” without a signature joke drum roll before his punchline. 

The fact that Cohen can say “I do” without breaking up in laughter reflects a true artist at work.

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