President Donald Trump’s loyalists — including his two adult sons and top Republicans in Congress — are zeroing in on his former personal attorney Michael Cohen’s claim Wednesday that he never wanted to work at the White House, in order to cast doubt on his entire congressional testimony that included many damaging moments for Trump.
In a roughly seven-hour hearing, Cohen called the president, who was in Vietnam for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, “a racist … a conman … and a cheat,” laying out the details of the Trump Moscow project that’s under investigation, and the hush money payments he said he was directed to make by the president. Cohen substantiated many points of his testimony with documents.
But when questioned by Republicans if he had turned against Trump because he did not get a White House job, Cohen repeatedly said he never wanted to work in the administration anyway. “I did not want to go to the White House,” he said during the hearing.
At least half a dozen sources close to Trump said they either heard from Cohen directly or secondhand before Trump was inaugurated that he wanted a job at the White House. None of those sources was able to provide any evidence — emails or text messages from Cohen — to back up the claim. They also said that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were responsible for Cohen staying in New York as other loyalists moved to the administration. (The Daily Beast reported in July 2018 that Cohen was bragging to his friends he expected to be named chief of staff.)
In their sentencing memo, prosecutors also brought up Cohen telling people he was getting a top administration position. “During and after the campaign, Cohen privately told friends and colleagues, including in seized text messages, that he expected to be given a prominent role and title in the new administration,” the memo states.
A former campaign official said it was common to hear about Cohen begging for a White House job, adding, “if you’re a Democrat, you’re happy there’s no concrete anything” yet that’s publicly surfaced to prove that point. “I think this is honestly a win for them and the administration overall.”
Several others in Trump’s orbit also tweeted during the hearing that they remembered Cohen begging for a job in the administration. North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, who is close to the president, asked the House Oversight Committee to include copies of those tweets in the congressional record.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the ranking member on the committee, kicked off that line of questioning within the first few minutes of the hearing. “You didn’t get brought to the dance,” he said.
Cohen refuted the insinuation. “Sir, I was extremely proud to be personal attorney to the President of the United States of America,” he said. “I did not go to the White House. I was offered jobs. I can tell you a story of Mr. Trump reaming out Reince Priebus because I had not taken a job where Mr. Trump wanted me to, which is working with Don McGahn at the White House general counsel’s office.”
“What I said at the time, and I brought a lawyer in who produced a memo as to why I should not go in — because there would be no attorney–client privilege,” Cohen said.
While the president remained largely quiet during the hearing (it was late Wednesday night in Vietnam), Trump’s allies, including his sons, ran a rapid response–type operation on Twitter. Grilling Cohen on his claim he did not want to work at the White House is part of their strategy to portray him as a “convicted liar” who cannot be considered a credible witness. Republicans also repeatedly brought up the fact that Cohen was already going to prison for lying to Congress.
Besides Cohen’s claim regarding the White House job, Republicans also questioned him repeatedly on whether he was interested in a book or movie deal or if he could get a reduced sentence based on his testimony.
Most Republicans did not, however, ask specific questions related to the president, his company, and the investigations surrounding them.
The president’s two eldest sons seized on Cohen saying he did not want a White House job, with Donald Trump Jr. going as far as to say that he would testify under oath that Cohen lied about not wanting to work at the White House. The president’s elder son tweeted at least 15 times about that claim alone during the hearing.
A former White House official said the hearing wouldn’t change minds. “The real danger for Trump with this hearing is the oxygen it will take up in the coming days.”
More specifically, on Cohen’s claim about not wanting a White House job, the official said: “You have to use the weapons you have at your disposal. It’s thin gruel, but what else really do they have?”