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Hearings reveal deepening systemic corruption, further degeneration of GOP, progressive members standout in questioning – Jacqueline Luqman, Henry Giroux and Carmen Russell-Sluchansky join Paul Jay
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
Well, Michael Cohen finally made his long-awaited appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. And while there’s a ton to dig into in terms of his accusations against Donald Trump, who–I guess everyone has heard by now–he said he is a racist, a conman, and a cheat. But perhaps the most explosive thing that Cohen said came at the very end, when he said about a man, Trump, that he’s worked with for over 10 years, in a statement that was vetted by his lawyers, he said–at some point he was asked about that. He says that if Donald Trump loses the election in 2020–Well, here’s what he said.
MICHAEL COHEN: Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will not be a peaceful transition of power.
PAUL JAY: That’s essentially saying that if he loses the election there will be a coup. There will be another declaration of national emergency. I’ve been saying on The Real News for quite some time that I’m very concerned with the agenda of this administration to go after Iran, especially in the midst of all this domestic chaos; of the possibilities of some kind of staged attack on the United States in some way or another to help justify some kind of aggression against Iran. He’s surrounded by John Bolton and Pompeo and people like that who don’t seem to believe that, certainly, international law matters. And one wonders whether they think American law matters.
So we’re going to start with that statement that Trump may not give up power if he loses the election. And then we’re going to dig into more of what was said during the hearings. So now joining us to discuss Cohen’s testimony and such, first of all, is Dr. Henry Giroux. Henry teaches at the McMaster University, where he’s the Chair of Scholarship and Public Interest in the Department of English and Cultural Studies. Also joining us is Jacqueline Luqman. She’s the editor-in-chief of Luqman Nation, and often hosts on The Real News Network. And Carmen Russell-Sluchansky. He’s a journalist based in Washington, D.C., who’s appeared–his work has appeared on NBC, PBS, ABC, BBC, and such. Thanks for joining us.
HENRY GIROUX: It’s a pleasure.
CARMEN RUSSELL-SLUCHANSKY: Thanks for having me.
PAUL JAY: So, Jacqueline, let me start with you. When you heard those words, what goes through your mind?
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Actually, that’s not the first time I’ve heard that, in regard to this administration. I can’t remember who else said something like that. I can’t remember if it was Trump tweeted something like that, or a member of his cabinet, probably his son-in-law, who said something like that, that Trump supporters would not go away peacefully if Trump did not win the next election. And when you look at the kind of people who are aligned with Trump, who he’s aligned himself with, like you said, Paul, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo; Elliott Abrams and Steve Bannon. People think Steve Bannon went away, and he’s not involved in the administration anymore just because he’s not in the White House. That’s–that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s not a surprise and it’s not shocking that this is a possibility. And I actually think it’s a reality. And these are not peaceful people. They didn’t rise to the White House using peaceful and fair tactics. And I don’t put it past them that they would resort to actual violence to keep it.
PAUL JAY: So, Henry, what do you think? What has Cohen got in mind? As I say, this is a guy who knows Trump for years, and his lawyers vetted the statements.
HENRY GIROUX: I think that what we’re hearing here and what we need to be concerned with is the fact that Trump is, in a sense, working right out of the playbook of a kind of updated fascist politics. I mean, his language is about the language of brutality, it’s the language of violence, language of fear. And he’s been doing this for a long time. Even before the election, I mean, there was some talk on the part of Trump and others about how he wasn’t sure what exactly was going to happen if she actually won the election. So I think that if you understand that comment as a way of both baiting his base, and at the same time making it clear that this is a guy who really trades in the notion of lawlessness and the notion of violence. And it’s very serious, and I think you need to take it seriously.
PAUL JAY: Carmen?
CARMEN RUSSELL-SLUCHANSKY: Yeah, I’ll follow up on what both of them said. I mean, we’ve been hearing these concerns since the election in 2016. I mean, maybe you remember, like, a lot of people were very concerned about what would happen if Hillary Clinton had, you know, if he had won the popular vote and Hillary Clinton had won the Electoral College. It ended up being different. But you know, people were really concerned. But then we found out that, first of all, Donald Trump didn’t expect to win the election, probably, or maybe, and that he was planning on starting this thing called Trump TV. Would he himself be out there starting a revolution? Probably not. I think he’s too lazy for that. But he would certainly be riling up supporters to think that 2020 was stolen, just as he did in 2016. And that’s–I mean, I think all the evidence points to that, for sure.
PAUL JAY: I mean, one of the things that Cohen said today is that Trump never expected to win. This was all a marketing ploy to build up the Trump brand. As he started get moving–once he wins the nomination, takes on Pence, which gives him a deal with the Koch brothers, who in the beginning wanted nothing to do with him. But Pence is a Koch brother guy, and now he’s got Pompeo, which is a completely Koch brother creation. But once he becomes president, he becomes a vehicle for so many different political forces. Evangelicals see him as a vessel. The neocons now see him as a vessel. And everything feeds into his megalomania. And so it is a convergence of this guy’s personal, as I say, megalomania, and some much more sophisticated political interests, in the context of a very degenerating, overall, political system, so that–you know, this corruption of Trump is just a tip of the iceberg of pervasive systemic corruption throughout the whole system. Henry.
HENRY GIROUX: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think that comment is right on target. I mean, I think that–you know, some of the stuff that we’re hearing today is not uninteresting, but as a number of people have pointed out, as I think Carmen pointed out, I mean, this is well known. So I think the real question here is how do you understand this corruption as something that’s so endemic to the politics that we find in the United States, that Trump is simply symbolic of it? And while Trump’s corruption is unadulterated and unapologetic, at the same time you really have to look at the larger systemic issues at work here. The convergence of money and politics, a neocapitalist system that absolutely, in a way, commodifies everything the only value that matters are exchange values, the notion that social responsibility is a burden rather than something that actually is endemic to a democracy.
The fact that this guy endlessly–if you really want to talk about corruption, I mean, this guy is basically endangering the planet. He’s changing the lives of young people with the rollbacks that he’s done with respect to environmental rules, with worker protection rules. That’s where the corruption really lies. I mean, let’s talk about the toll that’s taking place in terms of both democracy and the toll it’s taking place in terms of the planet; the toll that’s taking place in terms of human life. That’s real corruption, because it’s death-dealing.
PAUL JAY: Jacqueline?
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: I cannot disagree with anything that was said. I remember during the campaign, at one of Trump’s rallies where he’s speaking in front of a group of people, and there’s some protesters there, most of whom were black people. And he said to the crowd “You know, back in the day we would have them taken out on a stretcher.” People were shocked that the crowd actually cheered. But a lot of us were not, because we understood that Trump is really good at tapping into the most base instincts of the worst kind of people. He knows how to read it all, and he knows how to say what they want to hear to get him riled up. And he is the kind of person who wasn’t politically savvy, like you all said, wasn’t expected to win. Didn’t even expect to win himself. But he was the perfect front man to provide the popular frenzy, to whip up this popular frenzy among the group of people that this very sophisticated cabal needed to produce the outcome we’re seeing right now.
So this is a much bigger issue than Trump being corrupt, or mean, or racist. Those are bad things, but this is about a larger system that he’s just the front man of that’s been brewing for a long time.
PAUL JAY: And I think it’s something specific about the overtness of the Republican Party and Trump, and the GOP has really degenerated. Any voices–certainly in the Republican primary there were many who were very critical of Trump, but the elected, both in the House and the Senate, Republican Party has actually realized that this overt, naked, reactionary, fascistic message works for enough people to get elected. And without reservation, now. And we saw this in the Kavanaugh hearings. When Kavanaugh was was being grilled I came away saying “Wow, this guy’s toast.” And then I look at the polling the next day, and the Republicans actually did very well in the polling. People thought they were being insulting to Kavanaugh. And now they’re doing the same thing. They’ve learnt that the character assassination of Cohen, regardless of anything else that’s said, will play with enough people here. Here’s a sample of that character assassination of Cohen.
JIM JORDAN: Here’s the point. The Chairman just gave you a 30 minute opening statement, and you have a history of lying over, and over, and over again. And frankly, don’t take my word for it. Take what the court said. Take what the Southern District of New York said. Cohen did crimes that were marked by a pattern of deception and that permeated his professional life. These crimes were distinct in their harms, but bear a common set of circumstances. They involved deception and were each–each–motivated by personal greed and ambition. A pattern of deception for personal greed and ambition. And you just got 30 minutes of an opening statement where you trash the President of the United States of America. Mr. Cohen, how long did–how long did you work for Donald Trump?
MICHAEL COHEN: Approximately a decade.
JIM JORDAN: Ten years?
MICHAEL COHEN: That’s correct.
JIM JORDAN: And you said all these bad things about the President there in that last 30 minutes. And yet you worked for him for 10 years.
So, Carmen, it’s an interesting thing. On the one hand, if the guy is so horrible, Cohen, why wouldn’t he have worked for the guy for 10 years? I mean, you can’t be horrible–and the other. But but the main implication throughout this testimony is that Cohen wants a book deal, he wants a movie deal, and he wants a lighter sentence, so he’ll say anything. What did you think of that? Is there truth to that?
CARMEN RUSSELL-SLUCHANSKY: Reasoning coming from Republicans, many of whom who, you know, disavowed Trump early on, but then figured out, like you were talking about, it’s like he’s their guy because they’re getting what they wanted. They can, you know, grab–you know, it’s a smash and grab job while he’s there. So they’re enjoying it while it lasts. I mean, to think that’s like–well, why are you working with Trump when he’s such a bad guy, when they’re doing the same thing. I mean, the names that they’ve called him. So I mean, that’s hypocritical to begin with.
But secondly, I mean, this is a guy, like–they talked about how, they’re asking him, it was like, “Well, you lied to Congress before. Why can we trust you now?” It’s because he lied to Congress, was caught, was indicted, and now has investigators watching everything he says. We can actually feel pretty confident that he’s not lying now. You know, he doesn’t want–I mean, there could be a new indictment for lying to Congress again. It would definitely lose any possibility of reducing his sentence, and that kind of thing. So I mean, I think we can take it–we can take a lot of what he said today at face value, for sure.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, I thought there was an interesting point, this is Clip 5, where he says to the Republicans, you know, you’re accusing me of having protected him, and now I’m not. And and here’s, here’s what Cohen says to them.
MICHAEL COHEN: It’s that sort of behavior that I’m responsible for. I’m responsible for your silliness, because I did the same thing that you’re doing now for 10 years. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years.
PAUL JAY: I thought that was a rather poignant moment, because that is what almost the entire, or at least elected representatives of the Republican Party are doing. They know very well that Cohen’s accusations on the whole are true. The fraud with the Deutsche Bank where he falsifies his bank records. They know that they probably have–I was watching Fox, and the judge whose last name I always screw up–Napolitano. To the chagrin of the Fox host, Napolitano says they may have Trump on two critical issues: the campaign finance violations where the payment to Stormy Daniels is made under clearly Trump’s direction, because even Giuliani has acknowledged that this was done; and two, the bank fraud, lying about his financial statements to Deutsche Bank. And these are both being investigated by the prosecutor’s office in the Southern District of New York, which cannot be stopped even if the Mueller investigation is closed down or doesn’t go public. And there are some rumors today that they may not even release the Muller investigation.
So the Republicans know that this stuff is there. And I was a little surprised, I guess, that only one Republican of the whole place, I think a guy from Michigan, tried to distance himself a little bit from all of this scandal. The others are just all in that you have to defend Trump at all costs, or you’ll lose–or Trump’s machine will primary you. And you’ll lose your position. Henry.
HENRY GIROUX: The other side of this is that the kind of criticisms that are being made of Cohen, about his character and whether he’s lying, I mean, if you look at this within the larger context, this is the same argument that Trump uses. And that is that loyalty becomes code for absolutely covering up the most corrupt political economic and social practices that exist. It’s sort of like being in the mafia. You know, I mean, what’s the crime here? The crime here, that he’s worked for somebody, and actually now has begun to tell the truth about what happened, and they’re claiming that somehow because he worked for him he should have been loyal and he couldn’t possibly tell the truth.
I mean I think the other side of this, again, is this is something that needs to be addressed, and that is the degree to which there is a certain element of which the political collapses into the personal. You know, we don’t talk about larger systemic issues, we talk about character. I mean, we don’t talk about whether or not Trump is actually corrupt. We talk about whether or not Cohen’s character is somehow at risk because he worked for this guy for so long. I mean, it’s a politics of deflection, and it’s a politics that, in a sense, so narrows the purview of what’s being said that it becomes impossible to separate the personal from the political; that being that there are larger issues at work of which Cohen, in some way, is being quite truthful, because I think, as Carmen just said, he has nothing to lose.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. I mean, I thought the Republican grilling of Cohen was so contradictory because part of what emerges is yes, Cohen’s a very corrupt character. And his use, “I made mistakes.” Mistakes. These aren’t mistakes. This is sinking into the depths of corruption. But that’s why Trump hired him, because he had a guy who was so willing to sink in the depths of corruption.
HENRY GIROUX: But unlike the Republicans–I mean, this is a party which is so extremist–I mean, it’s been turned over to extremists. I mean, when you talk about the Republicans, you know, you couldn’t believe that they’re putting up with this. These are Vichy Republicans. I mean, this is the most extremist Republican Party we have seen since the Civil War.
PAUL JAY: And for younger people, what you mean by Vichy Republicans, you’re talking about the sections of the French elites that went along and became, essentially, collaborators with the Nazis.
HENRY GIROUX: Absolutely.
PAUL JAY: You’re saying these are people–essentially they realize this is a fascisization, and they’re signing on.
I thought there was an interesting moment, a few moments, where some of these new progressive members of the House–and one of them isn’t that new, but he’s relatively new–I thought did a much better job than most of the other Democrats did, being quite specific. Here’s Ro Khanna, which is probably the strongest framing of the one of the criminal acts that Trump can be charged with. So here’s that.
RO KHANNA: I just want the American public to understand the explosive nature of your testimony in this document. Are you telling us, Mr. Cohen, that the President directed transactions in conspiracy with Allen Weisselberg, and his son Donald Trump Jr, as part of a criminal–part of a criminal conspiracy of financial fraud. Is that your testimony today?
MICHAEL COHEN: Yes.
PAUL JAY: So I mean, on the face of it this stuff is kind of obvious. And the degeneration of American politics is such that you’re going to have a he said-she said balancing act in most of the corporate media. And you know, it’s kind of not going to matter, in many ways. We’ll see as this process develops how much deeper. But, Jacqueline, do facts still matter in this discourse?
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Yes, facts do matter. But I think I need to to make it clear that there is an issue with–maybe I don’t want to call it his character, Cohen’s character, because almost everyone in that chamber, with the exception of the newer members–who I guess haven’t had time to be corrupt yet, and we hope they never get there–most of the people in that chamber are corrupt. So it is hypocritical for especially these Republicans who are giving cover to this to this particular president calling out the character of Cohen, who is a liar. OK, he is.
But my issue with Cohen is that he is part of the reason we even have Trump as president. Because all of this that he knew, he didn’t say anything about it before the election. He was only compelled to talk about it when the investigation started. So I mean, there is some validity to asking him, well, gee, you’re coming out saying this stuff now. Why should we trust you? But because we already knew a lot of what Cohen said actually happened–we already knew about Stormy Daniels. We already knew, we actually knew that WikiLeaks was releasing the cache of emails every week or so because WikiLeaks actually announced on Twitter that they were doing it. Nobody called Assange, and he didn’t tell anybody “Hey, I’m releasing some emails.” They actually tweeted “We’re releasing a cache of emails next week. Wait for it.”
PAUL JAY: But it might establish a direct connection between Stone and Assange if the story is true.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And see, that’s the thing. I don’t believe the story is true. Because if you’re in the Ecuadorian Embassy, and you’re under all of this scrutiny, how are all of the intelligence agencies not recording your phone calls? I just–my jury is still way out [crosstalk].
PAUL JAY: One assumes they are.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And I’m sorry, I need proof of that. And you can’t just come into a congressional hearing and say “So-and-so picked up a phone and called so-and-so, and that’s my proof.”
PAUL JAY: Right. Well, let me get back to Henry’s point-
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: I don’t think that’s good enough for court. That’s not good enough for me.
PAUL JAY: OK. Let me–just to pick up on something you just said, Jacqueline and Henry. It can’t be underestimated that this is all in the context of a generalized legal corruption which is called the way campaign financing takes place. I mean, you can have gobs of money thrown at candidates. They can write legislation that’s directly in your favor, and you’ll get more campaign contributions. And it’s not called corruption, because it’s called legal. Because the same people that make the laws are getting the money. Carmen, go ahead.
CARMEN RUSSELL-SLUCHANSKY: Yeah, because I want to respond to that. I mean–because you’re absolutely right. You know, campaign finance is often very corrupt. But even then, it can be legal and still corrupt on the face of it when most people would look at it. So it’s amazing to me that we’re still in this hearing and we’re still seeing that it’s possible that they did something illegal. Which is almost hard to do, I think. Because like you said, you know, you can legally give lots of money; you know, super PACs, PACs. There’s so many ways of getting around this fury of campaign finance law that it almost doesn’t matter anymore. And yet, still, still it seems like he’s, you know, Michael Cohen is providing evidence of illegality, of an illegal action, which was, of course, the checks to Stephanie Clifford; you know, aka Stormy Daniels.
If I could also just throw one more thing out there, I want to push back on Jacqueline just a little bit, because I did work on the hill. There are a lot of great–you know, there are a lot of great legislators there. You do have to wonder how so many of them become rich while they’re in office. You know, I did know a number of good progressives who had been there for a long time. And I do–I mean, I’m really heartened, like you said, by these new progresives. Because, you know, it would have been–usually the OGR, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that this hearing was held in, is, you know, for a lot of grandstanding. But you know, you watch, like, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s, you know, I mean, real interrogation, she was going for facts.
PAUL JAY: Let’s take a look at that.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: According to an August 24–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?
MICHAEL COHEN: It’s identical to what he did at Trump National Golf Club at Briarcliff Manor.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: To your knowledge, was the President interested in reducing his local real estate bills? Tax bills?
MICHAEL COHEN: Yes.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: And how did he do that?
MICHAEL COHEN: 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.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Thank you.
PAUL JAY: A couple of points, here. One thing was missing today, which was anything that proved, one, any kind of collaboration between Trump and Russia in terms of the interference in the elections. There was absolutely nothing added to that picture whatsoever. In fact, he, you know, it suggests that there wasn’t anything. There was no evidence of who actually hacked WikiLeaks here. It continues just to be assumed it was Russia because American intelligence agencies says it was. But I don’t think, at least in terms of what we know in the public domain information that we actually know that yet. But set that aside. Wasserman-Schultz, who desperately tried to get Cohen to implicate Trump in a collaboration with the Russians, because she’s the one that was exposed as undermining the Bernie Sanders campaign when the WikiLeaks–when the DNC hacking takes place, or whistleblowing, whichever, then gets released. So I thought that was important.
And we’re kind of running out of time here, so just to end with a big picture question, or I’m going to make a comment and ask you guys to respond. You know, it’s not enough just to look at campaign financing. It’s not enough to look at corruption at the level of politicians. The big picture is the state of the militarization of the U.S. economy, and the state of the financialization of the U.S. economy. And between Wall Street and the military industrial–and many people add congressional–complex, the level and depth of systemic corruption. I mean, how many big bankers go to jail after outright fraud in the ’07-’08 crash? Is it any surprise that it’s, first of all, somebody from New York who ends up being–you know, Trump ends up being president, given the corruption surrounding finance in New York? But it’s the whole economic basis of that corruption that we need to talk more about. And you’ll sure never hear that on corporate media.
So one by one, you guys can add to your kind of final statements here. Henry, you go first.
HENRY GIROUX: Let me say something. Look, you have an economic crisis in the United States marked by massive inequality, the corruption of politics with big money, and so forth and so on. But I’m going to disagree with you on one thing, and that is the economic crisis has not been matched by a crisis of ideas. And one of the reasons is we never talk about the formative cultures that are necessary in a democracy to create, form citizens who can address these issues. Because you not only have an economic crisis, you have a crisis of civic culture. You have a crisis of civic literacy.You have a crisis of civic justice.
So it seems to me we have to ask ourselves, you know, what happens when all of a sudden the culture collapses because all the public spheres that matter are under siege? Where they’re being privatized, where they’re being contracted out, or whether they’re simply being destroyed? What happens when you have a press that’s called the enemy of the American people? What happens when the journalists get killed, and all of a sudden you have a president of the United States supporting a dictator who actually is responsible for the crime?
So we have to really include something about a larger cultural issue here that speaks, it seems to me, very importantly to the fact that politics follows culture. If people don’t have a collective understanding of what’s going on, then they can’t really address the problem to change it. That needs to be addressed. This is not just simply an economic issue. It’s also an educational one.
PAUL JAY: I’m not sure we disagree on that, because part of this is the destruction of the public school system. And you can’t get such a large section of the American people falling for such obvious BS if you have–without such a terrible level of education and understanding. I mean, it’s no accident that Trump is strongest in rural America, where honestly, education is at its worst. Carmen, final comment from you.
CARMEN RUSSELL-SLUCHANSKY: Yeah, I mean, I like what you said, actually, about the financialization, particularly. Because I mean, honestly, I think if people saw bankers go to jail under Obama for the ’07-’08 crash, we don’t have Trump, because they don’t feel so desperate. But when you see who he brought in, and the fact that–like Lawrence Summers, and even Eric Holder–I mean, Eric Holder’s great in so many ways. But you know, he came from New York, and he went back to a Wall Street firm, and is making I think $2.5 million, or something like that. And you know, nobody went to jail. I mean, you have to, have to wonder, like, how–well, you don’t have to wonder. People see this. And so they throw a Hail Mary. And that’s partially how we end up where we’re at.
PAUL JAY: And if you don’t see Bush and Cheney go to jail for launching an illegal war that kills a million people–like, if you can do that and not be accountable, what can’t you get away for? Get away with, sorry. Jacqueline, final word.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Yeah. And I have to add Elliott Abrams. If he doesn’t go to–if he not only doesn’t go to prison, but he also gets another job in another administration, what else are people supposed to think, like Dr. Giroux said, in a country where politics follows culture, and our culture is so bereft of actual real, clear understanding of justice and equality?
But I think one of the things that was most important that was done at the second part of the hearing that the new progressives did was to point out, especially Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s questions, was to point out how the wealthy elite get away with [hoarding] their finances. How they do it. The devaluation of their vast real estate stores. How they lie on their taxes. And then how they also weaponize different aspects of culture, which is I think something that Rashida Tlaib did when she pointed out the issue with the HUD executive being–honestly, she was used as a prop. But they exposed the tactics that the elites use to continue to perpetuate the system of corruption and gross inequality in this country. And I think they won the day in this hearing more than anybody else.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, I think it’s a very good, important note to end on. This movement to elect new progressives, and to have people like these four progressives that spoke on the committee to actually be on that committee, it’s a reflection of the strength of a growing movement that can’t be ignored. And so this isn’t all just a dark and horrible picture. There is, perhaps, especially in the leadup to 2020 election, there is a movement here that may make a kind of breakthrough that this system wasn’t built to deal with.
Anyway, thank you very much. And well I’m sure we’ll pick this conversation up again. Thanks for joining us. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.