As Michael Cohen, the president’s former fixer-turned-Trumpworld pariah, spent hours on Capitol Hill Wednesday recounting his old boss’s penchant for corruption and deceit, Donald Trump’s current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, took notes.
Sitting alone, watching live coverage of Cohen’s testimony on TV, the former New York City mayor dashed off insta-reactions to reporters via text. The messages were a form of real-time rapid response with a dash of character assassination—an attempt to diminish the man who was speaking before millions, threatening the president of the United States.
“He is a career criminal liar,” Giuliani wrote of Cohen at one point. “He is demonstrably unable to tell the truth.”
“[I] just pointed out the numerous articles saying he and his father-in-law were alleged to be associated with organized crime,” Giuliani added, defending his salvos against Cohen’s family. “Also they allege there were allegations about his wife. If there was a threat then [it was] not from President [Trump] or me but if true from organized crime.”
Not that Cohen was kind to Giuliani. In his opening remarks to the House Oversight Committee, Cohen referred to Giuliani derisively as Trump’s “TV lawyer.”
TV lawyer or not, Giuliani expressed shock at Cohen’s admission that he taped Trump several times when he was working as Trump’s counsel.
“I never heard of a lawyer surreptitiously taping his client to whom he now claims he was loyal,” Giuliani texted, unprompted, roughly an hour and a half after Cohen’s statement. He went on to allege that Cohen could have “doctored” recorded audio of a conversation with Trump—a theory the president trotted out on Twitter last year.
“Also there are a number of people who can testify that [Michael Cohen] was relentlessly seeking a government position and was very upset he did not get one,” Giuliani wrote, contradicting Cohen's testimony that he wasn’t seeking a job in the Trump White House. “Another area of provable perjury.”
By the end of the House testimony, Giuliani had sent The Daily Beast 14 texts over six hours—an ad hoc form of rebuttal that was indicative of how Cohen’s blockbuster testimony had pushed broader Trumpworld to a point of near hysteria. Faced with an insider revealing the president’s secrets, everyone from Trump’s closest advisers and friends to the backbencher Republicans in Congress responded by throwing everything they could at the apostate.
With the president mostly occupied by his overseas summit, he had by Wednesday night tweeted and commented only sparsely about his longtime fixer and legal pitbull. Trump’s pals, however, picked up the slack stateside.
On Tuesday, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a close ally of President Trump’s, tweeted at Cohen’s personal Twitter handle, “Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot...”
After being called out by lawmakers including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Gaetz apologized. By Wednesday, the Florida Bar had opened an investigation into whether Gaetz violated professional conduct rules in threatening Trump’s ex-fixer, as The Daily Beast reported.
Like Giuliani and Gaetz, House Republicans on the oversight committee made things as personal as they could push it for Cohen.
GOP lawmakers grilling the president’s former lawyer Wednesday uniformly painted him as a disgruntled former employee trying to make a dishonest buck, with several pressing him on whether or not he will try to land a lucrative book or movie deal when the dust settles or after his prison days are over.
Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jody Hice (R-GA), suggested, without evidence, that billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer had somehow played a role behind the scenes for Cohen’s hearing or paid for his legal fees. This was also echoed by talk radio host and Trump cheerleader Rush Limbaugh who said, “one of the Democrat donors that’s heavily involved in orchestrating this whole thing today is Tom Steyer, who is a Democrat billionaire from California who is a gigantic participant in the worldwide man-made climate change hoax.” (Steyer tweeted during the hearing that he had never paid for Cohen’s legal fees.)
During his Capitol Hill testimony, Cohen also made explosive allegations against those in Trump’s inner circle, including Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow, who, Cohen claimed, had reviewed in advance and edited his previous statement to Congress in 2017. In that testimony Cohen lied about the timeline of behind-the-scenes efforts during the 2016 election by Trump and his business to build a Trump Tower Moscow.
On Wednesday evening, Sekulow told The Daily Beast that Cohen’s claim is “completely false.” When asked to clarify if Trump attorneys had altered any part—not just the Trump Tower Moscow segment—of Cohen’s past statement to Congress, Sekulow declined to comment, stating he is “only" responding to Trump Tower Moscow allegation.
John Dowd, former personal attorney to President Trump, similarly claimed to The Daily Beast that Cohen’s assertion that Trump’s outside counsel edited the statement is “False!”
The effort to cast Cohen as a sniveling, backstabbing, self-centered, lying coward who will stop at nothing to reduce his prison sentence was echoed from the dais of the committee to outside political groups and conservative talk radio helmed by the likes of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.
“Why would anybody let this man testify, and put his life in even further jeopardy?” Sean Hannity, a Fox News star and close friend of the president, said on his radio show. Hannity used to secretly receive legal advice from Cohen, a fact that was revealed last year.
The Republican National Committee taunted Cohen, one of the RNC’s former deputy finance chairs in the Trump era, by blasting out a video it produced telling Cohen to “HAVE FUN IN PRISON!” America First Action, a Trump-boosting super PAC, sent out its media surrogates to trash Cohen.
Others claimed that the hearing was meant to distract from President Trump’s achievements. Appearing on Hannity’s radio show, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who still informally advises Trump, claimed the hearing was an attempt to draw attention away from the president’s meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Vietnam this week. “The Cohen hearing was specifically planned to stop the coverage and step on the president,” Gingrich alleged.
Of course, the president’s general absence in the pile-on shouldn’t be mistaken for indifference. One source close to the president recalled a conversation in recent weeks in which Trump loudly lambasted Cohen as a “rat” three times over the course of less than two minutes of conversation. The conversation, originally, had nothing to do with Cohen.
Still, Trump’s West Wing appeared to take something of a backseat to stage-managing the GOP-wide campaign to crush Cohen. By Wednesday evening, three Trump surrogates said they had yet to receive guidance from the White House on attacking Cohen.
Former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), a Trump surrogate who has also been a friend of Cohen’s, said he had received “none” in terms of official guidance, but shied away from going scorched earth on Cohen.
“I feel sorry for [Michael],” Kingston continued, striking a sympathetic tone. “To both sides he became an expendable pawn in a reckless chess game. His back was slammed against the wall by the [Robert] Mueller [and also New York] prosecutor thugs who stuck a long sentencing barrel down his throat if he didn’t sing their tune.”
—With additional reporting by Erin Banco