WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, told a House committee Wednesday that he committed several federal crimes at the direction of the president, admitted lying in the past but swore that he is neither a liar nor a “bad man.”
“Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make his country great,” Cohen said. “I am no longer your fixer, Mr. Trump.”
Cohen pleaded guilty to several federal crimes last year, including tax fraud, unlawful corporate contributions, lying to Congress, and making false statements to a financial institution. He will begin his three-year federal prison sentence in May.
Here are some highlights from the testimony before the House Oversight Committee:
Cohen says the president is under investigation by the Southern District of New York
- When asked by Rep. Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., about the last time he spoke to the president, Cohen said it was around two months after the FBI raided his home in April. When Krishnamoorthi asked what that conversation was about, Cohen said he could not comment because it is currently under investigation by the Southern District of New York.
- Previously, there was no public knowledge that Trump was under investigation by the Southern District of New York.
Cohen says Trump mischaracterized his relationship with Russia
- Cohen said he and Trump spoke about a business deal to try to build a Trump Tower in Moscow at least six times while he was campaigning, between January and June of 2016.
- “I lied to Congress about when Mr. Trump stopped negotiating the Moscow Tower project in Russia,” he said in his opening statement. “I stated that we stopped negotiating in January 2016. That was false — our negotiations continued for months later during the campaign.”
- Cohen said Trump lawyers edited his previous statement to Congress
- Cohen told the committee that Trump, through associate Roger Stone, had prior knowledge of a Wikileaks email dump that would “severely hurt the Clinton campaign.” These turned out to be internal messages from the Democratic National Convention.
- The Wikileaks allegations are pertinent to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election. However, Cohen stopped short of defining Trump’s relationship with Russia during the Trump Tower deal as “collusion,” instead calling the relationship between he and Vladimir Putin “odd.”
- He did say it was possible that the Trump family was capable of collusion with Russia in the months leading up to the election. “He’s all about winning and will do what is necessary to win.”
Cohen says Trump directed him to pay Stormy Daniels, repaid him
- Cohen also said Trump directed him to use personal funds to pay the attorney of adult film star Stormy Daniels, money which was then reimbursed by Trump over the course of a year. Previously, Cohen told reporters that he made the payment to Daniels and Trump had no knowledge of it. Trump then later admitted that he used personal funds to pay her.
- Cohen provided documents to the committee that corroborated his statements, including a personal check from Trump to reimburse Cohen for hush money to Stormy Daniels and a wire transfer to her attorney. Trump’s 2017 annual personal finance disclosure form did not include this payment.
- When asked why it was omitted, Cohen said, “That would have embarrassed the president and it would have interfered with the election.”
Cohen says Trump lied about finances
- The financial statements from 2011 to 2013 provided by Cohen’s testimony show Trump inflating his worth by billions in an attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills with a loan from Deutsche Bank. Cohen claimed that Trump repeatedly deflated assets to reduce his real estate taxes.
- “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,” he said.
- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-N.Y., asked Cohen about Trump’s deflation of real estate properties such as Trump Golf Links in Queens, N.Y. and Trump National in Jupiter, Fla. Cohen confirmed that the deflation would be evident by cross-referencing tax returns and public statements. Cohen also said Trump reported deflated numbers to insurance companies, which could be viewed as insurance fraud.
Republicans label Cohen an unreliable witness
- Republicans fired back, generally making statements along four lines — criticizing the committee for bringing forward someone who pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in 2018, focusing on Cohen’s other crimes, asking Cohen about possible book or movie deals and questioning his ethics as a lawyer.
- The top Republican on the committee Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, listed several illegal acts Cohen had committed without the direction of the president, including filing false tax returns, failing to report income and failing to pay taxes.
- “This might be the first time someone convicted of lying to Congress has been brought back so quickly in front of Congress,” he said.
- Several Republican committee members accused Lanny Davis, Cohen’s lawyer and former White House counsel to President Bill Clinton, of “choreographing” the hearing as he sat behind Cohen during the testimony. Jordan said Cohen’s testimony would be used by House Democrats to bring forth impeachment charges.
- Multiple Republicans grilled Cohen about whether or not he would accept a book or movie deal when he gets out of prison. Cohen did not rule it out, and he would not commit to giving the profits from those ventures to charity, as Rep. Cloud, R-Texas, suggested he do.
- Republicans questioned Cohen’s ability as a lawyer, asking why he recorded over 100 conversations, some of which pertain to Trump’s business dealings. They also asked him why he agreed to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels if that was illegal.
- Trump tweeted Tuesday that Cohen is lying to reduce his prison time. Wednesday’s testimony does not affect Cohen’s sentencing; however, his ongoing work with several Southern District of New York investigations could be affected.
Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately). He had other clients also. He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time. Using Crooked’s lawyer!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 27, 2019
Cohen attacks Trump’s character
- Cohen used his opening statement to describe his 10 years working for the president, saying he had a “blind loyalty” to him despite character flaws.
- He provided a document with Trump’s handwriting on it about an art auction, which Cohen said the president rigged. Cohen said Trump wanted to ensure a portrait of him at an auction would go for the highest price of any portrait that afternoon. So, Cohen claimed, Trump arranged for a fake bidder to purchase the portrait for $60,000, which the Trump Foundation then paid back. The portrait is now hanging in one of Trump’s golf clubs.
- Cohen also disclosed letters he wrote, allegedly at Trump’s direction, threatening legal action against his high school, college and the College Board if they were to release his grades.
- In his closing remarks, Cohen worried about the impact of Trump’s presidency on the country, saying, “If Trump loses the election in 2020 there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”
- He then encouraged Trump to take responsibility for his “own dirty deeds,” to accept people of different religions, to not bully those who speak out against him and to not put the needs of U.S. adversaries before those of allies. “This behavior is childish,” he said, “and it’s simply not you.”
Accusations of racism and racist behavior
- In his opening statement, Cohen called Trump “a racist…a conman…a cheat.” Cohen described moments when Trump called black people “stupid” and insulted black leadership abilities.
- Cohen agreed when Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., asked him, “Would you agree that someone could deny rental units to African Americans, lead the birther movement, refer to the diaspora as ‘shithole countries’ and refer to white supremacists as ‘fine people,’ have a black friend and still be racist?”
- There was a heated exchange between Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., toward the end of the hearing. In a note to the Chairman, Tlaib stated: “just because someone has a person of color, a black person, working for them does not mean they aren’t racist.” Meadows took personal offense to this, as he had invited Lynne Patton, a Trump Organization employee and black woman, to the hearing to challenge Cohen’s assertion that Trump is racist.
- Upon request, Tlaib rephrased her statement, emphasizing that she was speaking generally and not directly calling Meadows a racist. Cummings agreed, saying he had known Meadows a long time and he was not a racist person and that Tlaib was not calling Meadows a racist.
Cohen’s sympathy tour
- Cohen used a lot of his time to apologize to his family.
- He said that he will “attempt to change how history will remember me.”
- In his closing remarks, Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings said he hopes this testimony not only leads to a “better Michael Cohen,” but “a better Donald Trump, a better United States of America and a better world.” Cohen began crying during Cummings’ speech.