In 2016, Washington Post assistant editor Robert Gebelhoff argued in favor of continuing to have congressional hearings. Gebelhoff acknowledged they are frequently just opportunities for politicians to grandstand, but they're still one of the few venues that have the power to shape public opinion.
This is a fascinating power that lawmakers have: Despite all the talk about people hating Congress and dismissing it as broken and gridlocked, it still retains enough respect to levy mass shame. We still eagerly denounced “Pharma bro” Martin Shkreli as he made faces and repetitively pleaded the Fifth before the House Oversight Committee.
We don’t watch these events for new information; rather, they’re a form of political theater. Congressional hearings — or at least, those that get media attention or make an appearance in our Facebook feeds — are no longer seen as tools to develop legislation. They are political tools to influence public opinion.
During the Michael Cohen hearings in front of the House Oversight Committee, many reporters were shocked at the information that was gleaned when lawmakers stopped putting on a show and started asking straightforward questions.
The Cohen hearings were not, however, without their share of over-the-top stunts.
One of the most shallow and ridiculous moments in the recent history of congressional hearings came during the Brett Kavanaugh hearing. The Washington Post reports Sen. Cory Booker took it upon himself to make a grand statement in front of the gathered public. A grand statement that was ultimately completely empty.
Lest the immensity of the moment be lost on spectators, Booker sprang for the enduring image: “This is about the closest I’ll probably ever have in my life to an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment,” he said with a straight face. He was referring to the 1960 movie “Spartacus,” about a failed slave revolt led by the title character (Kirk Douglas) against the Roman Republic. When the rulers warned that all the slaves would be crucified unless Spartacus identified himself, he stood up. Then all the other slaves did the same, saying, “I am Spartacus.”
Alas, the Kavanaugh documents technically were not confidential, having been released the night before by Bill Burck, the George W. Bush attorney charged with reviewing Kavanaugh’s records from his time as a lawyer in the White House. The documents also did not support Booker’s claim about profiling. But truth is no lingerer in the repositories of Booker’s revelations.
On the flip side, much of Michael Cohen's testimony proved insightful and interesting. The New York Times reports while he may not have a wealth of knowledge on the Trump administration's ties with Russia, Cohen did offer a great deal of insight on the organization's financial workings.
Mr. Cohen’s testimony did not provide conclusive proof that incriminates the president on possible collusion with Russia. On another matter, though — one that is the province of federal prosecutors in New York and not that of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III — Mr. Cohen’s testimony and documents could prove far more damaging.
Mr. Cohen said the president had firsthand knowledge of the payment made to Ms. Daniels, just before Election Day in 2016, that were part of an effort to silence her from talking about a sexual encounter she said she had with Mr. Trump. Acting at the president’s direction, he said he procured a home-equity loan to pay Ms. Daniels $130,000. But Mr. Cohen also gave the committee documentary evidence: a copy of a check dated Aug. 1, 2017, for $35,000 from Mr. Trump’s personal bank account that bore Mr. Trump’s signature. Mr. Cohen said the check was one of 11 installments that the president made to reimburse him.