The president’s former lawyer and fixer also testified the president was told of WikiLeaks’ Democratic email dump.
Updated 02/27/2019 04:03 PM EST
President Donald Trump was informed about plans to dump Democratic emails at a critical moment of the 2016 presidential campaign and was kept in the loop about a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, Michael Cohen testified on Wednesday.
The explosive comments from the president’s former personal lawyer and fixer at a sharply partisan House hearing contradict Trump’s previous claims and expose the president and some of his closest advisers to new legal and political consequences, including potentially impeachment.Story Continued Below
Cohen also clearly sought to gain some level of redemption by revealing what he says is the true character of the commander-in-chief.
“I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is,” Cohen said Wednesday in his opening statement to the House Oversight Committee. “He is a racist, he is a conman, and he is a cheat.”
Perhaps most importantly for the president’s critics, Cohen turned over a tranche of documents to Congress that showed Trump’s personal net worth, Trump’s reimbursements for a hush-money payment, and other pieces of evidence that could endanger the president.
One of the documents, titled “Donald J. Trump Summary of Net Worth As of March 31, 2013,” shows Trump with a net worth of approximately $8.6 billion. Cohen also provided the committee with copies of a $35,000 check signed by Trump from his personal bank account — while he was president in August 2017 — as reimbursement to Cohen for the $130,000 payment to buy the silence of adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who alleges that she and Trump had an affair.
Cohen told lawmakers that the documents he provided to the House panel prove that Trump engaged in “illicit” acts and painted a misleading picture of his personal wealth in order to secure loans from Deutsche Bank and to ensure that he would be listed on Forbes Magazine’s list of the world’s wealthiest people.
“It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes,” Cohen said, later adding: “Everything was done with the knowledge and direction of Mr. Trump.”
Cohen — who is scheduled to report to federal prison in May after pleading guilty to lying to Congress and for campaign-finance crimes related to the hush-money payment — expressed remorse for working as the president’s fixer. He testified that he was no longer interested in protecting the president, who repeatedly claimed he had no knowledge of the hush-money payments to Daniels. Cohen told lawmakers that Trump directed him to lie about the president’s knowledge of the hush-money payments — including to first lady Melania Trump.
“He asked me to pay off an adult film star with whom he had an affair, and to lie to his wife about it, which I did,” Cohen said. “Lying to the first lady is one of my biggest regrets. She is a kind, good person.”
Cohen’s testimony didn’t just take on Trump.
Cohen said during his opening statement that the president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and longtime Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, had also signed checks reimbursing him for the hush-money payments.
He also said he briefed Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump about the progress of the Trump Organization’s efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the timing of the Trump Tower Moscow deal, and said he misled lawmakers in order to shield Trump from further legal trouble.
Initially, Democrats had signaled Cohen’s testimony would not cover topics directly under the purview of special counsel Robert Mueller and his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. In his opening remarks, however, Cohen discussed the Mueller investigation.
Cohen said he was aware of other allegedly criminal acts by the president but said he could not discuss them due to the ongoing federal investigations, adding that prosecutors in the Southern District of New York were still investigating Trump.
Cohen said he’s maintained “constant contact” with federal prosecutors in New York about several ongoing investigations, including probes into Trump. He also said the U.S. attorney’s office instructed him not to answer questions about what he discussed the last time he communicated with the president or people acting on his behalf.
In one bombshell disclosure, Cohen contradicted the president’s written testimony last year to the special counsel by recounting a conversation he overhead in Trump’s office in Trump Tower in July 2016 when longtime Trump associate Roger Stone was put on speakerphone to report back what he’d just discussed with Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder.
During that call, Stone reported that Assange had told him “within a couple days there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” Cohen said.
“Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect, ‘wouldn’t that be great,’” Cohen testified.
Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor from Virginia, said in an email that the statements were a “total game changer.”
“Based on Mr. Cohen’s demeanor, his substance, and the corroborative documents, the president is in serious legal jeopardy of facing tax and campaign violation charges, if not Russian collusion,” he wrote. “The Fixer killed it.”
Democrats immediately scrutinized Cohen’s claims about Trump’s conversations with Stone. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who chaired the Democratic National Committee at the time of the WikiLeaks email disclosures, questioned Cohen about Stone’s role as a longtime Trump confidant and, briefly, an adviser to the Trump campaign.
“He frequently reached out to Mr. Trump, and Mr. Trump was very happy to take his calls,” Cohen said, adding that Trump’s “desire to win would have him work with anyone.”
Cohen also offered new details about Trump’s apparent knowledge of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting involving the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who offered dirt on Clinton to Trump Jr. and other senior campaign officials. He said he was in a room with Trump early that month “when something peculiar happened,” noting the president’s son came into the room and walked behind his father’s desk.
“[It] was unusual, people didn’t just walk behind Mr. Trump’s desk to talk to him,” Cohen said. He recalled hearing Trump Jr. say to his father in a low voice, “The meeting is all set.”
“I remember, Mr. Trump saying, ‘Okay, good, let me know,” Cohen testified, adding that Trump had frequently told him and others “that his son Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world, and also that Don Jr. would never set up any meeting of significance alone and certainly not without checking with his father.”
Cohen said he did not have direct evidence of collusion between Trump or his campaign and Russia.
Trump’s personal lawyers are reviewing Cohen’s written statement and were listening to his testimony and plan to comment as the day progresses. “We will see what he says and if he is effectively challenged. We will play it by ear,” Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani wrote to POLITICO by text.
In an email to POLITICO, Stone dismissed the testimony that referenced him. “Mr. Cohen’s statement is not true,” wrote Stone, who was charged last month in the Mueller probe for lying to Congress and obstructing lawmakers’ Russia investigation.
A lawyer for Trump Jr. did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the president’s oldest son live-tweeted the hearing with more than 30 posts. “This sounds like a breakup letter…and I’m keeping your sweatshirt,” Donald Trump Jr. wrote in a post as Cohen delivered his opening statement.
Mueller’s spokesman declined to comment when asked about Cohen’s testimony and whether the special counsel’s office had a chance to review it. A spokesman for the Southern District of New York, the U.S. attorney’s office where Cohen pleaded guilty, also declined comment.
Trump’s 2020 campaign issued a statement calling Cohen “a felon, a disbarred lawyer, and a convicted perjurer,” in an effort to discredit his testimony. “Why did they even bother to swear him in this time?” said Kayleigh McEnany, the campaign’s national press secretary.
Republicans largely used the hearing to portray Cohen as an untrustworthy witness who sought to advance himself rather than to protect the president. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the committee’s top Republican, suggested that Cohen was positioning himself for a job in the White House.
Another Republican, Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, asked Cohen if he would commit to not pursue a book or movie deal, work for a TV network or run for political office. Cohen responded that he would not.
Cohen often shook his head as he responded to GOP lawmakers’ questions, at one point snapping at Jordan: “Shame on you, Mr. Jordan.”
GOP Rep. Mark Meadows brought Lynne Patton, a former Trump Organization employee who is African-American, to the hearing in order to dispute Cohen’s claims that Trump is a racist. Meadows noted that he has never heard Trump say something racist in his hundreds of conversations with the president, while Cohen claimed Trump once told him that “black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
As they sought to undercut Cohen’s credibility, Republicans seized on Cohen’s appearance as a way for him to get additional recommendations from federal prosecutors to reduce his upcoming three-year prison sentence. Cohen disputed that notion.
“I wish it was, but it’s not,” he said.
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