Cohen Hearing Underscores Ocasio-Cortez’s Impressive Early Start in Congress
While Michael Cohen’s testimony before Congress on Wednesday had multiple explosive moments, it also proved the U.S. has a formidable new leader in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
In less than two full months as a United States congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has shown a fearlessness at committee hearings to call it, very bluntly, as she sees it and a preference for intelligent, thought-out lines of questioning over ineffective displays of partisan lecturing. And today at the Michael Cohen hearing she stood out among the rest for her line of questioning. (Watch the full exchange below)
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 27, 2019
Let me be clear I am not, or was not, an AOC fan, as she is commonly known. Though I don’t like labels, most would label me a progressive, so I should be an AOC fan, but I have been wary of what someone so young with so much popularity so quickly would actually do once in Congress. I also have a natural aversion to bandwagons, but what AOC has done in her very short career as a congressperson has been almost remarkable.
On Wednesday, Feb. 27, AOC laid down the most significant line of questioning of all the 40-plus members of the House Oversight Committee at Michael Cohen’s hearing. Granted there were many highlights and key points made all around and on both so-called “sides” of the hearing; sadly, the Cohen hearing was a fierce reminder of the ultra-partisan side-taking atmosphere of our current politics. But unlike most of the members, AOC refrained from partisanship.
AOC’s Hyper-Focus on Concrete Evidence
AOC opened her line of questioning to ask Cohen about the “treasure trove” of documents that Cohen testified AMI CEO David Pecker possessed that contained potentially damaging information about President Trump and which Cohen said the President had expressed concern about. This opening line of questioning immediately established on record that more documents potentially damaging to the President existed and that the committee should call upon David Pecker, Barry Levine or Dylan Howard to learn more about the documents.
Moving on, AOC’s next line of questioning focused on Cohen’s testimony that Trump regularly engaged in the practice of asset inflation. While other committee members pressed Cohen for more information on the asset inflation practices of Trump, AOC skillfully asked clear, direct and concise questions to which the answers were a simple yes, Trump had engaged in submitting inflated assets to insurance companies.
AOC, knowing Cohen’s credibility was shot, again focused on looking for evidence to back Cohen’s testimony and asked Cohen who else knew that Trump provided the inflated assets. Cohen responded, “Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman and Matthew Calamari.” Not done with looking for evidence, AOC pressed on asking Cohen where else the committee could find more information about whether Trump had lied about his assets to the insurance company.
“And where would the committee find more information on this? Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns?” AOC asked.
“Yes,” Cohen replied.
At that point, AOC was about a minute and a half in to her allotted time, and she had already established that an alleged stockpile of documents potentially damaging to the President existed and that Trump allegedly inflated his assets to an insurance company. Not content with allegations or Cohen’s credibility, she also established where to get the corroborating evidence.
Opting for Facts Over Partisan Talking Points
It’s worth noting that while there were many important questions and statements made by other congress members during the Cohen hearing, most of them used all or at least a significant part of their time to lecture the opposing political party or once again remind the nation that Cohen is a liar. We all know Cohen is a liar, whether you think he is telling the truth now or not is a subjective judgment, so why waste the committee’s time and the American people’s time rehashing Cohen’s many lies and lack of credibility? He has no credibility, but it’s not his credibility that really matters. What matters is whether there is any hard evidence.
AOC seems to be one of the few who realized arguing over Cohen’s credibility was a moot point and one of the few who quickly and poignantly posed a line of questioning focused on looking for that hard evidence, the only thing that really matters at the end of the day. The first minute and a half of AOC’s questioning possibly did more to find that evidence than almost all the other questioning combined, and she wasn’t done.
AOC pressed the asset inflation issue and next brought up Trump’s golf courses. After beginning with a reference to a Washington Post article that detailed how Trump Links in the Bronx was built using $127 million of taxpayer funds, but the profits flowed to Trump himself, AOC brought up a Trump course in Florida.
“According to an August 21, 2016, report by the Washington Post, while the President claimed in financial disclosure forms that Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, was worth more than $50 million, he had reported otherwise to local tax authorities that the course was worth no more than ‘$5 million.’”
“Mr. Cohen, do you know whether this specific report is accurate?” said AOC.
Cohen responded, “It’s identical to what he did at Trump National Golf Club at Briarcliff Manor.”
AOC pressed on, “To your knowledge was the President interested in reducing his local real estate bills, tax bills?”
“And how do you do that?”
“What you do is you deflate the value of the asset and then you put in a request to the tax department for a deduction,” Cohen responded.
Not relenting, AOC moved on to a report from the New York Times that claimed Trump used similar tax avoidance practices when family property was transferred to him and his siblings in the 90s. Cohen responded he did not have knowledge of Trump’s practices in the 90s, but he named Weisselberg as the man who would. AOC followed that up by asking Cohen if it would help the committee to have Trump and his company’s state and federal tax returns to shed light on “that discrepancy.”
“I believe so,” Cohen responded.
While you may not like AOC personally or her policies, her questioning of Cohen showed a remarkable display of competence. Sadly, it’s mostly remarkable because so many others fail to do the same nowadays, that is, fail to do their job to bypass partisan bickering and look for the evidence that matters.
Politicians lie and politicians bicker. It is the politicians who don’t succumb to the fleeting satisfaction of partisan bickering and that instead focus on finding the truth and hard facts that we need in Congress and the White House. For that AOC is earning my admiration.
If Cohen is lying about Trump committing tax or insurance fraud, let us find the facts that show he is lying. If he is lying about the documents Pecker has, let us find the facts that show he is again lying.
A reminder that AOC is only 29 years old and less than two months into her career as a congresswoman. She was flanked by other young Congress members who also offered bold challenges.
Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) almost shook up Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) so much he verged on a meltdown over her taking offense and calling his actions racist. (He presented the existence of a single happy black administration employee to prove Trump wasn’t racist, which Tlaib and others took as offensive). While Meadows may very well not be racist, it’s hard not to admire Congress members not afraid to speak the truth as they see it.
Side note: What the clash looked like to me was a refreshing new era of young politicians who are much more comfortable and educated in discussing the nuances of race and other socioeconomic issues butting heads with a member of an older era for whom such discussions are unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
AOC Setting a Bold Pace
While AOC’s questioning during the Cohen hearing was admirable by itself, it was not even her boldest display of forthrightness in her young career.
If you somehow missed the viral video, AOC earned widespread admiration when she again brilliantly outlined the United States’ completely corrupt and broken political system in an ethics hearing before the House Oversight Committee just weeks ago. Again in a window of five minutes, she brutally took on lobbying, hush money, incessant conflicts of interest and the lack of oversight of the executive branch.
You can watch her in the video below:
She has also boldly spearheaded the Green New Deal. While the merits of the deal can be fought over and debated, what’s so refreshing is having something big to root for. Americans elected Donald Trump because they wanted a big change. Everybody in this country is tired of the same old broken politics, but every politician seems to be afraid to offer any big change. AOC opened the door to Congress and came bursting through demanding huge change, and given how utterly broken our system is, big change is desperately needed.
The Green New Deal as it’s been introduced isn’t intended to be the end destination, it’s intended to start a big movement and a catalyst for big change. We need someone to set the bar high and push for big change, because the result will always fall far short. So thank god, we have someone pushing us to do something drastically different, and thank god, we have in that same person someone so laser-focused on facts and evidence when the spotlight of a televised committee hearing is on — a moment when so many of our other elected officials would rather grandstand and lecture.