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Clay Says Cohen Hearing Should Be A Wake-Up Call For Americans About Trump

U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-University City, speaks at a congressional forum hosted by the League of Women Voters at Christ Church Cathedral in July of 2016.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Congressman Lacy Clay, D-University City, took part in Wendesday's House Oversight Committee hearings with Michael Cohen.

As a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, St. Louis Congressman Lacy Clay had a prominent place in the nationally televised hearings of Michael Cohen.

President Donald Trump’s former lawyer spent most of Wednesday making a series of accusations against his former boss. And the issue the University City Democrat zeroed in on were claims that Trump inflated his net worth numerous times — including on loan documents as part of his effort to try to buy a professional football team.

“I thought yesterday’s hearing with Michael Cohen was vital, because the American people are tired of being lied to,” Clay said in an interview Thursday with St. Louis Public Radio.

Cohen told lawmakers that the president reimbursed him while he was in office for paying Stormy Daniels not to talk about her affair with Trump. He also said that Trump encouraged him to lie to Congress about a Russian business deal, something that Trump’s current attorney strenuously denied.

In response to questions from Clay, Cohen said Trump pumped up the value of his assets to appear higher on lists of wealthy people. And Cohen also said Trump gave a false impression of his wealth in a loan application to Deutsche Bank as part of an unsuccessful bid to purchase the Buffalo Bills.

“And that was contrary to the president’s denials,” Clay said. “And so, it kind of gives you a clearer picture of what kind of activities were going on with the Trump organization before he was elected president and afterwards.”

‘Congressional enablers’

President Donald Trump speaks at a Granite City Works warehouse on July 26, 2018.
Credit File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
President Donald Trump speaks at a Granite City Works warehouse on July 26, 2018.

Many of Clay’s GOP colleagues used Wednesday’s hearings to sharply challenge Cohen’s credibility.

Cohen pleaded guilty to a litany of offenses, including tax evasion and campaign-finance violations. He also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress. This prompted Republican members of the committee to question whether Cohen was truly a reliable witness.

For his part, Clay didn’t find that argument persuasive. In fact, before he questioned Cohen, he said the American people had been lied to by “congressional enablers who are still devoted to perpetuating and protecting this giant con game on the American people.”

He said on Thursday that Republicans didn’t want to exercise particularly vigorous oversight over Trump’s administration when they controlled the House, adding they were more interested into looking into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails.

“I’m tired of it. But I believe the American people are tired of hypocrisy,” Clay said. “Yesterday it was on full display, on how indignant they were.”

Clay went onto say that Cohen didn’t have anything to gain by deceiving Congress, as he’s already heading to prison for several years.

“This witness was the personal attorney and fixer to the president of the United States, even after he was sworn in. And so, how dare they want to attack the witness instead of listening to what he had to say?” Clay said. “He has no reason to lie now. He’s already been convicted of lying to Congress. And he would get more charges and more time if he does it here.”

Another significant moment in the hearing came when North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows attempted to refute the idea that Trump was racist. The Republican invited Housing and Urban Development administrator Lynne Patton, who is black, to the hearing. And as Patton stood behind Meadows, he claimed “that there is no way that she would work for an individual who was racist.”

That brought about a rebuke from Michigan Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who said it was “insensitive” to use “a black woman as a prop.” Clay added that Meadows’ contention was highly suspect, especially since Trump and his father entered into a consent decree in the 1970s over racial discrimination in housing.

“Listen to the comments that Michael Cohen shared with the committee yesterday about the conversations he’s had with President Trump,” Clay said. “Like the time they were driving through a black neighborhood in Chicago, and he said, ‘Only black people would live like this.’ That’s what Trump said. And like he didn’t contribute to it?”

Next steps

Asked if Wednesday’s hearings may prompt prosecutors to pursue some sort of criminal proceedings against Trump, especially since his administration appoints U.S. attorneys across the country, Clay replied: “a lot is weighing on what (Special Prosecutor) Robert Mueller recommends — if he recommends any action.”

“I do know that law enforcement [is sticking] to the line that you cannot indict a sitting president,” Clay said. “But it doesn’t preclude a sitting president from being indicted once their term has expired. And that may be the route that law enforcement takes.”

Clay went on to say that Wednesday’s hearings revealed “quite a bit of material that we will explore and we will investigate.”

“And it’s a target-rich environment,” Clay said. “Because [Cohen] shared with the American people some of the issues that we suspected but were not sure of. And he brought those issues to the forefront.”

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.