Jennifer Rubin: What the House committee learned from Michael Cohen

It is easy to forget that the purpose of a congressional hearing is to uncover facts. It rarely happens, because these things often devolve into speechmaking and theatrics. The House Oversight Committee surely had plenty of that, but it remarkably was quite informative.

What did the committee and the public learn?

According to Michael Cohen, the illegal hush-money scheme continued during President Donald Trump's time in office. If you believe Cohen and/or that prosecutors who referred to this conduct in prior court filings have corroborating evidence, then Trump seemingly committed a crime in office. Congress, voters and prosecutors will then have to decide what to do about this.

The above discovery involves the Southern District of New York (SDNY) prosecutors, not special counsel Robert Mueller. All the time spent smearing Mueller and crying witch hunt will have been for naught if Cohen's testimony and/or other evidence prove to be true.

In adept questioning from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and others, we learned of the potential for a host of financial crimes -- defrauding insurance companies, submitting false information for a loan, defrauding tax authorities. We also learned there are documents at the Trump Organization, according to Cohen, to substantiate this, and other witnesses, including chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who could provide evidence. These witnesses and documents must be obtained.

Cohen told the committee Trump implicitly told him to mislead Congress by reciting a false version of events (No Russia deals!) and having his lawyer Jay Sekulow edit his testimony. Sekulow denies this. However, he is now a witness. If he did participate in constructing false testimony, the attorney-client privilege vanishes and he faces possible prosecution. We do not know if there is evidence of the "before" testimony so we could determine what, if anything, was changed.

Cohen claims he was a witness to a conversation between Trump and Roger Stone regarding an upcoming dump of stolen emails. Roughly three days after Cohen says the conversation occurred, the Democratic National Committee's hacked emails were released. If this is true and Trump told Mueller otherwise in written answers, he has a problem. If it can be shown Trump encouraged or assisted the release of the DNC and later the Hillary Clinton emails, this would be the smoking gun of conspiracy/collusion. It certainly puts Trump's public plea for Russia to release Clinton's emails in a different light. If these were the matters about which Cohen allegedly lied to sync with other Trump associates' false testimony, those associates face possible charges of lying to Congress and/or to prosecutors. It also suggests that by extracting a plea from Cohen, prosecutors have corroborating evidence Stone did communicate with Trump on WikiLeaks.

Finally, by telling us he consulted approximately 10 times about the Russia deal with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., Cohen made them witnesses. Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony to Congress may possibly have been false if he denied knowledge of the Moscow tower deal.

In short, we have now a treasure trove of new facts, possible witnesses and documents, and a full appreciation for the problem Trump faces in the SDNY. Prosecutors there presumably have Cohen, Weisselberg, David Pecker (from the National Enquirer’s parent company) and documents that implicate Trump in financial crimes. Commentators who speculated Trump had far more to fear from the SDNY than from Mueller had it exactly right.

Jennifer Rubin | The Washington Post

Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.