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Michael Cohen breaches Trump's wall of protection

E.J. Dionne Jr. on

Normally, presidents who are in trouble exploit historic foreign policy moments to associate themselves with the majesty of their office and demonstrate their seriousness of purpose.

Only President Trump could use his encounter with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to reinforce some of the worst things his former lawyer Michael Cohen said about him in congressional testimony on Wednesday.

Nothing Trump does should surprise us anymore, yet it was still shocking that the man who holds an office once associated with the words "leader of the free world" would refer to a murderous dictator as "my friend." It's clear by now that Trump feels closest to autocrats and is uneasy with truly democratic leaders, as Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, among others, has learned.

The president's apparatchiks also gave us an instructive hint as to what an unrestrained Trump might do to the free press. They excluded White House reporters Jonathan Lemire of the Associated Press and Jeff Mason of Reuters from the press pool covering the dinner between Trump and Kim for daring to ask inconvenient questions of our country's elected leader. This wasn't the work of Kim or Vietnam's authoritarian government. It was the imperious action of a man who wishes he could live without the accountability that free government imposes.

It was an appropriate prelude to the attempt of Republicans on the House Oversight Committee -- from the moment the committee's chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., gaveled Wednesday's hearing to order -- to use procedural maneuvers to block Cohen's testimony. The Democratic majority swept the GOP motion aside, signaling the end to an unaccountable Trump presidency.

"The days of this committee protecting the president at all costs are over," Cummings declared.

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The GOP Congress' obsequiousness toward Trump has been costly to the country. And it's no wonder that the president's apologists sought to keep Cohen from speaking to a national audience.

His testimony was damaging to Trump both personally -- "He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat." -- and legally, since it opened new avenues of inquiry.

Cohen alleged that Trump was informed by his longtime friend Roger Stone of a WikiLeaks dump of emails that could harm Hillary Clinton.

This was not dispositive about whether Trump directly colluded with Russia -- Cohen was careful about this in replying to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who was badly hurt by the stolen emails. But as The Washington Post's Philip Bump noted, Cohen's testimony means that "the distance between the candidate and Russia's interference efforts is much shorter than realized."

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