By Samuel Moore-Sobel
I’m not sure what to make of Michael Cohen.
The country watched two weeks ago as he testified before Congress, making his case to elected officials (as well as the American people) that the president is guilty of far more than the current occupant of the Oval Office is admitting. Yet Cohen is far from the most reliable witness, in light of his three-year prison sentence on charges of “financial crimes and lying to Congress,” as reported by The Washington Post.
In the aftermath of his testimony, both sides of the aisle espoused their preferred viewpoint. Republicans painted him as a liar, while Democrats praised his candor. Yet what inevitably was lost in the chatter following Cohen’s testimony was the humanity inherent in this odd episode in our country’s history. A husband, father and former lawyer has been brought to his knees, paying for his misdeeds in the most public of ways. Those watching his testimony saw a man laid bare, completely devoid of any of the external qualities many humans attempt to utilize in disguising the essence of who they are from public view.
“You know I’ve sat here, and listened to all of this, and it’s very painful,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said in his closing remarks. An undeniable statement, no matter what political ideology one espouses.
Cohen himself was equal parts strong and defeated. He offered clever retorts at times, while in other moments appeared to be genuinely apologetic. He was humbled, even becoming emotional during Rep. Cummings closing statement. In such moments, it was hard not to think about his family, and the hurt they were enduring as a result of the illegal acts this man committed.
“…One of the saddest parts of this whole thing is that some very innocent people are hurting too…that’s your family,” Cummings said. Few of us likely understand the experience of watching a family member testify before Congress while the country looks on. What does it feel like for a child to watch their father admit to breaking the law? Not to mention Cohen’s father Maurice – a Polish-born Holocaust survivor – who likely felt pained at the sight of his son’s testimony. A cautionary tale for all of us as we travel through life. The actions we take affect those we love, sometimes in unanticipated ways.
Cohen’s appearance on Capitol Hill caused many pundits to point out that Cohen’s rather apparent character flaws – his illegal activity, coupled with his penchant for lying – may immediately call his testimony into question. “Michael Cohen is a bad man,” wrote Adam Davidson in The New Yorker. “He was a bad man before he met Donald Trump, he remained a bad man afterward, and he became…even worse after Trump starting running for President.” Perhaps it’s right to possess a healthy skepticism regarding Cohen based upon his track record; however, if someone told lies in the past, does that mean that every subsequent word they offer should be automatically deemed to be untrue?
“I don’t know where you go from here,” Rep. Cummings said in his closing remarks in reference to Cohen. It appears Mr. Cohen may have some ideas. He refused to rule out a possible book or movie deal, even after being repeatedly pressed by lawmakers regarding his future money-making ventures at multiple points throughout the public hearing. Paradoxically, Cohen could still have much to gain from this undoubtedly painful episode. Despite his jail sentence, Mr. Cohen may still benefit from this national kerfuffle, at least monetarily. A set of circumstances seemingly ensuring Michael Cohen may get the last laugh.
Except for the fact that Cohen will likely always be viewed as a person lacking scruples. As a child, my mother used to periodically repeat a phrase she once heard Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia say, which was apparently passed down to him by his father. “Brains are like muscles, you can rent them by the hour. But at the end of the day, all you have left is your character.” Mr. Cohen can hire a lawyer to advocate on his behalf, an accountant to manage his finances, even work with a publisher or movie director on a future project. He cannot, however, hire someone to have good character for him. The name Michael Cohen will likely always be synonymous with scandal and moral failure. An excellent reminder of the insignificance of money in comparison to a sterling reputation. For, character is truly “more than worth its weight in gold.”
Samuel Moore-Sobel is a freelance writer. To read more of his work, visit www.holdingontohopetoday.com.