July 27, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Who Do You Trust, Cohen or Trump?

Cohen's claim is a game-changer. Do you believe it? The media should help decide.

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Major news broke Thursday when CNN reported that Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney, said he was in the room when Donald Trump approved a meeting between his campaign and Russian agents eager to share dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Per CNN:

Cohen alleges that he was present, along with several others, when Trump was informed of the Russians’ offer by Trump Jr. By Cohen’s account, Trump approved going ahead with the meeting with the Russians, according to sources.

If true, Cohen’s claim would be the linchpin holding together hundreds of strands of evidence pointing to a criminal conspiracy between the Russian government and the Trump campaign in an effort to help the president win. If true, his claim would be the basis for accusing him of cheating and that his presidency is illegitimate.

If true, the Congress would have a legal basis for Trump’s removal.

These, of course, are big—big—ifs. Again, CNN:

To be clear, these sources said Cohen does not have evidence, such as audio recordings, to corroborate his claim, but he is willing to attest to his account.

I argued in May that so much about this presidency, and the electorate’s view of it, will come down in the end to credibility and trust. Do you trust Special Counsel Robert Mueller to do the right thing in his investigation and follow the facts where they lead, even if they end at Trump’s feet? Or do you trust a president who, as of June, is documented to have made false claims more than 3,251 times since taking office?

That’s an easy one compared to this: Do you trust Michael Cohen or Trump? Partisans eager to believe the worst about the president will say Cohen. But let’s remember that he was a fixer, meaning he did things for money, like paying off women to keep quiet or abort pregnancies, that would scandalized the conscience of ordinary people. To say he was a paid liar hoping to skim a con man’s till wouldn’t be a stretch. The real question might be who, between Cohen and Trump, do you distrust least.

I’m not willing to answer that, nor am I willing to assess Cohen’s scruples (assuming he has any). My concern has always been about the health of American public opinion, and for that I must address a maddening subject: the news media.

The temptation among reporters will be to turn this potentially pivotal revelation into a game of he said-she said, leaving it up to viewers. listeners and readers to decide.

Given that most people most of the time have something better to do than pay attention to politics, I’m pretty sure most people most of the time do not have, or care to have, the knowledge needed to suss out who to trust. (I mean, I don’t have that knowledge—do you?) That leaves most people most of the time reliant on the partisan media to tell them what to think. And that brings us back to where we started.

The knowledge we do have, thanks to a competitive press corps, is that this president lies like the wind, and that he does not appear to care about or feel shame about telling falsehoods. But exposing half-truths, falsehoods and lies are only one thing a press corps can do to establish a context in which the citizenry can decide who to trust.

Another is to come a clear conclusion.

By that, I mean enough empirical evidence has amassed by now for the press corps to conclude—reasonably and fairly—that Trump does not operate in good faith and does not act with sincerity. In short: he no longer deserves the benefit of our doubt.

This is demonstrable.

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler—Mr. Fact Checker—reported that Trump’s lies are increasing in frequency. During his first 100 days, he told 4.9 falsehoods a day. The rate is now 6.5 a day. As of June, Trump lied 3,251 times in less than 500 days.

Does Cohen deserve the benefit of our doubt? I think so. For now, anyway. That will probably change in due course. But just as you’re presumed innocent in a court of law till proven guilty, I think you deserve the benefit of the doubt till it’s proven you don’t.

For Cohen, the case is open.

For Trump, case closed.


When the president heard news of Cohen’s claim of being in the room when Trump signed off on his campaign’s meeting with the Russians … well, you know.

His attorney, Rudy Giuliani, told CNN last night that Cohen has “been lying all week, he’s been lying for years.” He added: “I don’t see how he’s got any credibility.”

See what I mean?

He said-she said.

In case you missed it …

The Media Myth of Teflon Don
Things stick. They always stick. The result is the most unpopular presidency in modern memory.

Do House Republicans Need Russia to Win?
Given their refusal to fund election security, that’s a fair question.

Trump’s Base Is Probably Smaller Than We Think
Yes, Republicans approve. But take a closer look at “independents.”

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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