I must've seen at least 3 Congressmen ask Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal attorney, who Individual 1 was, despite the fact that in the beginning he had already said it was Donald Trump, and despite the fact that previous members had already asked him that question, as well.

What is the reason for this? What benefit does it have when the statement is already in the record?

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    Comments deleted. Please don't answer the question in the comments.
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 10:24

6 Answers 6


You're assuming that the questions are asked solely for the public record.

Here's another reason...

Members of Congress want video of themselves asking good questions that will be broadcast by their local news media and / or used in campaign commercials.

And another...

Often times you'll notice that committee seats are empty during hearings. That's because members come and go during the hearing. It's possible that one member asks a question that was asked by another member earlier in the day before the first member arrived. (Although I don't think that was the case in the Cohen hearing, as the entire committee seemed to be present for the duration.)

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    I'm going to +1 this because I think it's true, or at least an extremely plausible reason to invalidate OP's assumptions. It's too bad there probably aren't many Congressmen that just straight up admit this, though. Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 1:38
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    Asking the same question in a hearing where everybody knows it's been asked before is admission enough. They don't care about the people in that room (politically speaking). They answer to their constituents and they want their sound bite. Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 1:49
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    @Mehrdad That's getting into the internal motivations of people which isn't really on topic here. Arguably the same can be said of the original question itself, but the question as-worded doesn't specifically focus on motivations and seems open to the idea of there being procedural rules, or explanations directly from congressmen (or staff), etc. that are of a factual nature. So even though the answer may be little more than internal motivations of people, that doesn't seem to be a fault of the question itself. Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 7:23
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    Great answer. I would add a nuance to the photo-op opportunity. It is that the average viewer thinks of this as a trial (So many comments elsewhere mention evidence and other courtroom jargon). It is not, no one is on trial here and there is no deposition so the rules are completely political (and mostly un-written). Basically it is about coloring the situation with as much emotion as possible. Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 12:59
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    I'm not sure the first reason makes sense in this case, though, because we always knew that "individual 1" was Trump and nobody ever tried to hide it. Cohen's charging document literally says "[...] individual-1, who at that point had become the President of the United States" in the second paragraph.
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 17:37
  • Members of Congress may not fully trust the witness. This is especially the case with Michael Cohen, who has been convicted of lying to Congress. Asking a witness about the same thing multiple times makes them more likely to contradict themselves (or their written testimony) if they're lying.

  • Witnesses sometimes dodge questions or give incomplete answers. Members that aren't satisfied may ask again to press for more information. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) specifically gave this as a reason for one of his questions during Cohen's recent hearing.

    I'm going to give you another opportunity to respond what you brushed off earlier regarding your own statement during this testimony...

  • Grandstanding. The members may be looking to create clips and soundbites of themselves that can be politically beneficial in the future. On the flip side, when the witness is themselves a politician, opponents who sit on the committee can use the hearing as an opportunity to politically damage the witness.

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    Members repeat questions because they are not satisfied with the answer. That's a great one! Missed that in my answer. +1 Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 12:25
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    But they even say "I know you said this but..." which feels like a strange thing to say if you're hoping they will contradict themselves.
    – user541686
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 21:03
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    @Michael_B Or when they simply didn't like the complete answer already given before (potentially several times,) though this also falls into the grandstanding category. For example, Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings when they kept asking Kavanaugh to ask for an FBI investigation, even though he had already (repeatedly) answered that question by saying he was leaving that call up to the Committee, whose job it was to make it.
    – reirab
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 21:32
  • I agree with bullet 1 in general but there really doesn't seem to be any reasonable chance of Cohen lying about who Individual 1 is. And we all know who he is, anyway: SDNY have already told us that he was engaged in an ultimately successful campaign to become President of the Unites States. Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 19:14

In the example you cite, it was an extremely important question that links the president directly to a felony. If you have been asked this multiple times, it reinforces the answer and makes it impossible for you to walk back your answer later. Normally prosecutors ask the same question multiple time you are looking for any inconsistencies in the answer.

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    I think this makes sense for the situations where the testimony is actually the source of a truth... but in this case, the courts already know who individual 1 is, and so do the prosecutors. The only people who don't officially "know" are the public, and even then it's already obvious who Individual 1 is when the court filing literally says "Individual-1 began an ultimately successful campaign for the President of the United States". In what world would Cohen want to walk back who "Individual 1" is? It wouldn't make any sense.
    – user541686
    Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 10:23
  • The President has already been very clearly linked to this felony by SDNY prosecutors, as @Mehrdad explains. Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 19:17
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    "looking for any inconsistencies", aka: interrogation, +1. It worked on Sean Spicer all the time; get them riled up and they'll say something stupid.
    – Mazura
    Commented Mar 3, 2019 at 1:56
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    In light of how things have been dealt with in the past I quite like this answer. You would think that "when I said it was Donald Trump I actually meant it to say it was not Donald Trump" would be ridiculed by all but there have been cases of that exact thing being done. Geting Cohen to say this multiple times surely (surely?) removes the possibility of claiming that the word 'not' was left out a few times as a misstatement.
    – Eric Nolan
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 11:04

Congress members prepare ahead of time

When members of Congress are part of a hearing like this one, they're not going to be coming up with their questions on the spot. They will have prepared extensively in order to make sure that they ask all the questions they need in order to get the information (or make all the statements) they want.

In theory they could adjust the questions that they are going to ask based on which questions other members have already asked, but the more you alter a prepared plan the more likely it is that you'll make mistakes when trying to implement that plan. Asking a question multiple times is far preferable to skipping a question because you mistakenly thought that it had already been asked, or because you were removing other questions and it got mixed in.

So they stick with what's safe, and ask their questions even if those questions have already been asked during the hearing.

  • This is a good additional answer to the others and I like that it is free of politician-hate and conspiracy theory.
    – Tom
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 8:41
  • This honestly seems like the most plausible answer to me.
    – user541686
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 10:16

Public Congressional hearings are nothing but spectacles for voters masked as a serious inquiry. Nothing ever comes out of them besides hours of video footage, as Congressmen don't need these hearings to arrive to any important decisions. At best, these hearings serve to justify a proposed law that's already been decided upon by one of the parties. At worst it's just a waste of taxpayer money and a way for individual Congressmen to show off how tough and inquisitive they are.

In this context it becomes clear that Congressmen only ask questions which make them look good on TV. And if one Congressmen finds a question that sounds good to the average Joe in their state, there's a high chance others would copycat them. It could also be explained by laziness - since Congressmen don't really care about what's being said at the hearing, they're likewise too lazy to bother to follow what's been asked before. Sure, a few people would laugh at their supposed ignorance, but most voters won't notice that something's amiss.

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    This is really the best answer, IMHO. It explains other things, like asking questions they know the answers to, or feigning ignorange. I found it particularly disingenuous that GOP questioners acted like they'd never heard of people insinuating instructions to subordinates instead of stating them overtly.
    – Barmar
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 21:22
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    @Barmar also see this related question Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 22:23
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    No, these hearings are an intrinsic part of the checks and balances that the Congress is supposed to exert over the Executive. It's clear that this particular hearing has nothing at all to do with legislation, and legislation is not Congress's only function. Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 19:17
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    The thing I don't like about this answer is that it suggests it'd be better if they were all private hearings, which I flatly disagree with. And I'm not disagreeing that it's also kind of hijacked as a public spectacle, but the public really does want clear answers to some questions from those responsible, and hearings can and do sometimes reveal new information or the people to go on record for lying, which can be powerful later.
    – user541686
    Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 22:55
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    @Mehrdad did anything ever come out of a public hearing in the past 10 years? This could actually be a great question of its own. Commented Mar 3, 2019 at 2:26

It’s because it’s understood that people under questioning may stall for time by giving the evasive answers.

So to ask the same question is to show the person under investigation that the panel is not fooled. It also gives them a chance for them to come clean and make a confession.

This will depend on what they already know, and what they have surmised about the situation, and of course the truth about the situation at hand.

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    The identity of Individual 1 is already public knowledge, so this doesn't apply. Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 19:18

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