One of the many reasons Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony last week jolted the political world was his documentary evidence. For example, we don’t just have to take his word for it that Donald Trump reimbursed his personal attorney for an illegal hush-money payment, because the president’s former fixer brought a copy of the check.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), predictably, was unmoved.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of President Donald Trump’s most stalwart allies, creatively dismissed Michael Cohen’s evidence that Trump signed reimbursement checks for Stormy Daniels’ hush money payments from his personal account, saying that “people don’t write checks if they think they’re involved in a crime.”
“You know, ‘here’s my part in the crime,’” he added.
Look, I’m aware of the circumstances. Graham is up for re-election next year in a red state; he might be worried about a possible primary rival; and he enjoys the influence that comes with being one of Trump’s sycophantic allies. It stands to reason that the South Carolinian is going to have to say some embarrassing things once in a while for purely partisan reasons.
But his latest pitch is weak tea, even for him. As George Conway explained the other day on Twitter, “People commit crimes using checks all the time. They can use the checks to pretend payments were for one thing, when they really for another. Here Trump and his lawyers do not dispute today that these payments were made, and were made to reimburse for the Stormy payment. But the reimbursements were fraudulently made to appear to be payments for legal services. That’s precisely the kind of thing criminals do when they seek to conceal their criminal acts. It’s evidence of consciousness of guilt.”
In fact, there’s an example from history that seems especially relevant.
On August 1, 1972, the Washington Post published a front-page piece – written by Woodward and Bernstein – with a memorable first sentence: “A $25,000 cashier’s check, apparently earmarked for President Nixon’s re-election campaign, was deposited in April in a bank account of one of the five men arrested in the break-in at Democratic National Headquarters here June 17.”
I imagine there may have been Republicans in Congress at the time who said, “People don’t write checks if they think they’re involved in a crime,” but if so, they were mistaken.
Complicating matters is the frequency with which Lindsey Graham tries to defend his White House ally in woefully unpersuasive ways. In December, for example, the GOP senator argued, in reference to Trump’s hush-money scandal, “Campaign-finance violations have never been used to impeach anybody.” In reality, the second article of impeachment against Nixon referenced campaign-finance violations.
A month earlier, Graham dismissed the felonies committed by Trump’s associates as trivial “process crimes.”
More recently, the senator defined “collusion” as sitting down with Russian intelligence operatives “to manipulate the results of the election.”
I don’t doubt that Trump appreciates this kind of support, but I wonder if Graham understands what he’s done to his reputation.