“Verisimilitude” is a lot of syllables employed to relate a simple concept: the believability of a character and their story. The reader needs to feel like the narrator is believable, even if the narrator might not be the most upstanding character. If the reader believes what they’re reading, the story has verisimilitude. It feels true.
Take Huckleberry Finn. Now, he’s a self-admitted scoundrel who skips class and isn’t big on washing behind his ears. But, we believe his overall story because he’s not hiding any of his scoundrel ways. The story feels true, because young Huck has no call to lie to us. He’s just giving us his point of view on the inherent unfairnesses of the world.
In this case, Michael Cohen is our Huckleberry. He’s also a self-admitted scoundrel, a liar who perjured himself before Congress and is on his way to prison. Republicans make the argument that this negates anything he has to say, which makes sense in a vacuum until one considers that Cohen’s perjury was on behalf of the president, as were the violations of campaign finance law. He also brought receipts to back his claim that he received at least one hush money check signed by none other than Donald Trump Jr, an example of hard evidence mitigating Cohen’s dishonest character on one particular matter.
However, it’s another tale Cohen told the House Oversight Committee that makes his testimony as a whole just plain feel true. And that’s the story of how Donald Trump used a fake bidder to win a portrait of himself at auction in 2013 to dupe the press into promoting the value of the Trump brand. According to Cohen, Trump directed him to pay for the successful $60,000 phony bid using Donald J. Trump Foundation funds, then Trump kept the portrait for himself.
It’s not legal to use charitable funding that way, of course, but what gives the story verisimilitude is that it’s completely within Trump’s character, and it’s the kind of tidbit that isn’t directly related to the campaign finance illegalities and Trump Tower Moscow deception. It’s about establishing the character and past behavior of the witness – and, as we know now, Trump was really the hearing’s star witness, not Michael Cohen, even though zombie GOP House members didn’t realize it in their efforts to besmirch Cohen’s already bedraggled character. Oops.
In fact, GOP House Oversight members were so desperate to align with Trump that they destroyed their own believability in the process, mumbling through shallow talking points while becoming emotionally unhinged, all while Cohen calmly answered question after question about his (and Trump’s) crimes. They achieved what Cohen himself couldn’t achieve alone: they lent credibility to a convicted felon and perjurer, which is why the hearing blew up in their faces. Republicans might want to read up on ol’ Huckleberry Finn before the next public hearing, and take a few lessons on how to best go about whitewashing.
Chuck is a former community reporter, columnist, and Army veteran