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Why 1 simple lie by Michael Cohen could invalidate his entire testimony

(CNN) In order for Michael Cohen to be seen as a credible and reliable source on Donald Trump's business dealings, political activities and character -- both in and out of the White House -- the President's former fixer must be viewed as a changed man, someone who lied, yes, but has now seen the light and spent his House hearing on Tuesday telling the truth and nothing but the truth about his former boss.

Under that narrative, Cohen was ONCE a liar -- to protect Trump -- but the scales have fallen from his eyes and now he is on the side of facts and truth. In his opening statement to the House Oversight Committee, Cohen nodded to that idea that he was a changed man. "I want to apologize to each member to the US Congress as a whole," he said. The last time I appeared before Congress, I came to protect Mr. Trump. Today, I am here to tell the truth about Mr. Trump."

However, the key to the believability of Cohen as liar-turned-truth-teller is that he actually, you know, told the truth in his testimony on Wednesday. Which brings me to the news that Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina) referred Cohen to the Justice Department Thursday for possible prosecution for perjury during his testimony.

"Mr. Cohen's testimony is material to the Committee's assessment of Mr. Cohen's motive to monetize his former association with President Trump," it says in the criminal referral filed by Jordan and Meadows -- two of Trump's top congressional defenders. "It is essential that the Department of Justice investigate these remarkable contradictions between Mr. Cohen, the SDNY prosecutors, and the public accounts of witnesses with firsthand information."

While the referral from Jordan and Meadows argues that Cohen didn't tell the truth on a number of fronts, the most worrisome charge for Cohen is that his assertion that he never wanted to work in the White House seems to be false.

Jordan, in his questioning of Cohen, sought to make that case -- arguing that Cohen's decision to plead guilty and turn on Trump was due to the fact that "you wanted to work in the White House. ... You didn't get brought to the dance."

To which Cohen said this:

"Sir, I was extremely proud to be personal attorney to the President of the United States of America. I did not want to go to the White House. I was offered jobs. I can tell you a story of Mr. Trump reaming out Reince Priebus because I had not taken a job where Mr. Trump wanted to, which was working with Don McGahn at the White House General Counsel's Office."

Several other times throughout his testimony, Cohen reiterated that initial assertion -- that he was given the only job he ever wanted: Serving as Trump's personal attorney.

(Cohen also suggested that if he went to work for the White House, Trump would lose attorney-client privilege with him -- potentially exposing the President to legal ramifications.)

Cohen's claim that he never wanted to work in the White House was immediately greeted with mockery by Trump allies and family. "Michael was lobbying EVERYONE to be 'Chief of Staff,'" tweeted Eric Trump. "It was the biggest joke in the campaign and around the office. Did he just perjure himself again?"

David Bossie, Trump's deputy campaign manager in 2016, tweeted this: "Michael Cohen asked me to support his effort to be Chief of Staff when I helped run the Presidential Transition Team. He perjured himself today."

These recollections, in the grand scheme of things, don't matter all that much. Sure, Eric Trump or Bossie can SAY that Cohen wanted to be chief of staff, but in order for Cohen to be proven as a liar on that front there needs to be actual documentation that he lobbied for a White House job.

What is more problematic for Cohen is that he seemed to express considerable interest in going to work in the White House as late as November 2016 -- following Trump's surprise victory. Cohen told CNN's Chris Cuomo that he hadn't been offered a job in the White House at that time but that he "certainly hope[d]" he would be. Cuomo followed up by asking Cohen if he would take such a job if offered; "100%" replied Cohen.

And then there's the fact that in filings by the Southern District of New York, where Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts last year, prosecutors claimed that Cohen "privately told friends and colleagues, including in seized text messages, that he expected to be given a prominent role and title in the new administration."

Asked Wednesday to explain those SDNY filings after he had already testified that he didn't want a White House job, Cohen said, "I'm not saying it's a lie, I'm just saying it's not accurate. "

But the five words "including in seized text messages" have to send a shiver down Cohen's spine. Remember that federal investigators seized scads of documents when they raided Cohen's house, hotel and office in April 2018. If the feds have texts from Cohen that make clear he wanted a job in the White House, that's big trouble for him.

If that scenario comes to pass, Cohen allies -- if those people really exist -- will make the case that even if he didn't totally tell the truth about wanting to work at the White House, it doesn't invalidate all the other truths he told on Wednesday.

That might be true of someone who was not a convicted liar. But Cohen IS a convicted liar. And if his come-clean moment wasn't actually a come-clean moment, then how can anyone know what parts of his testimony were the whole truth and what parts were hedged or fudged to make him look better?

Cohen had a credibility problem going into Wednesday's hearing. If it can be proven he lied in that hearing, his credibility is ruined forever.

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