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Horowitz: Elijah Cummings Provides a Moment of Grace at Cohen Hearing

Tuesday, March 05, 2019


Elijah Cummings

Public testimony by Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former attorney and fixer, this past Wednesday in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform proceeded for most of its 7 hours along all too familiar partisan lines. The Democratic members used their time to make comments and ask questions that with a few notable exceptions were more designed to blast the president than to elicit new information, while nearly all the Republican members simply used all their time to attack Cohen as a criminal who had lied to Congress, continually reminding the audience of information that the former Trump loyalist had already apologized for in his opening statement. 

The performance of the Republican members, except Justin Amash who refusing to follow the party line, asked constructive questions, was particularly cringe-worthy. They neither substantively defended the president from the serious criminal and moral offenses of which Cohen accused him nor displayed curiosity about the damaging information the long-time Trump confidante imparted. Indeed, many of the Republican members yielded back some of their allotted 5 minutes to  the ranking member, Representative Jim Jordan(R-Ohio) so he could continue to harangue Cohen in a display of over-the-top nasty and misleading callowness that even some strong supporters of the president realized was unpersuasive and might even have damaged their cause.

Despite the performance of most of the members of the Committee and to his credit, Michael Cohen did manage to both keep his cool and deliver explosive and relevant information about the conduct and attitudes of President Trump.  But it took Committee Chair Elijah Cummings eloquent closing remarks, in which he directly communicated and empathized with Mr. Cohen as a fellow human being with the capacity for redemption, to provide a moment of grace that transcended the rabid partisanship that dominates our politics.

Here is a representative excerpt from those closing remarks: “You know I’ve sat here, and I’ve listened to all this, and it’s very painful. It’s very painful. You made a lot of mistakes, Mr. Cohen — and you’ve admitted that. And, you know, one of the saddest parts of this whole thing is that some very innocent people are hurting too. And you acknowledged that. And, um, that’s your family…. Let me tell you the picture that really, really pained me. You were leaving the prison, you were leaving the courthouse, and, I guess it’s your daughter, had braces or something on. Man that thing, man that thing hurt me. As a father of two daughters, it hurt me. And I can imagine how it must feel for you. But I’m just saying to you — I want to, first of all, thank you. I know that this has been hard. I know that you’ve faced a lot. I know that you are worried about your family. But this is a part of your destiny. And hopefully, this portion of your destiny will lead to a better, a better, a better Michael Cohen, a better Donald Trump, a better United States of America, and a better world. And I mean that from the depths of my heart.”.

Cummings brought us back to a fundamental truth that was perhaps best expressed by the Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

It is the case that Michael Cohen committed serious crimes, most of them fueled by his own greed and not related to his work for Donald Trump. He also by his own admission committed numerous unethical and illegal acts on behalf of Mr Trump in the more than 10 years he worked for him.. Among his motivations for cooperating with law enforcement and Congress, providing valuable information, testimony and documents, is in all likelihood a desire for a shorter prison term and a desire to pay back Trump for the fact that loyalty to the president is a one-way street.

 But that doesn’t preclude the fact that this also can be a quest for redemption, driven by a real change of heart. As Immanuel Kant famously said, “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”

And this past Wednesday in front of the whole nation and perhaps even tougher, his own family and friends, Michael Cohen once again took responsibility for his wrong-doing, the first hard and critical step on what promises to be a difficult journey to what I for one hope will end up being a better, more rewarding and more virtuous life. 

We all owe Elijah Cummings a thank you for reminding us that even when the political stakes are high,  we should not lose sight of the fact that flawed and mortal human beings just like us are involved.  Our divided nation could use more of these grace notes.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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