This article is written from a democratic point of view.
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press
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Michael Cohen–months away from reporting to prison for his role in the crimes–painted a picture Wednesday of his long-time former boss, President Trump, as a Mob-style figure who certainly was aware of at least a certain level of foreign collusion in the 2016 presidential election.
Cohen, once Trump’s trusted attorney and fixer, delivered his testimony under oath in an extraordinary open hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Cohen began by asking for protection from the committee for his family for threats made against them. He also acknowledged that his own credibility could easily be questioned as a result of his past lies, which is why he said he brought evidence before the committee to bolster his allegations.
“Never in a million years did I imagine, when I accepted a job in 2007 to
work for Donald Trump, that he would one day run for President, launch a campaign on a platform of hate and intolerance, and actually win,” Cohen told lawmakers, by way of introduction. “I regret the day I said ‘yes’ to Mr. Trump. I regret all the help and support I gave
him along the way.
“I am ashamed of my own failings, and I publicly accepted responsibility for
them by pleading guilty in the Southern District of New York,” he added.
“I am ashamed of my weakness and misplaced loyalty – of the things I did
for Mr. Trump in an effort to protect and promote him.
“I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump’s illicit acts
rather than listening to my own conscience.
“I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat,” Cohen continued.
And in what would be his first real revelation of the day, Cohen said of Trump, “He was a presidential candidate who knew that Roger Stone was talking
with [WikiLeaks leader] Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop of Democratic National Committee emails.”
According to Cohen, he witnessed Trump associate Roger Stone tell President Trump that he had just spoken with Assange, and that there would be a “massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” Cohen said that Trump replied, “wouldn’t that be great.”
That would be but the first of a laundry list of misdeeds and wrongdoing alleged by Cohen, often with some form of corroboration to back him up.
- Cohen produced to the committee a personal check with Trump’s signature, dated when the president was in office, that reimbursed Cohen for the illegal hush-money payments he made to adult film star known as Stormy Daniels, with whom Trump allegedly had an extramarital affair. Cohen testified that this was one of 11 checks he received from President Trump or his trust. Even after writing these checks, Trump publicly denied knowing anything about the hush-money payments.
- Cohen also produced a check from the Trump Trust signed by Donald Trump, Jr. and Trump Organization executive Alan Wiesselberg on March 17, 2017. This check was written after President Trump held a press conference announcing that he was no longer exercising control over the Trump businesses. Cohen testified that Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Weisselberg were all active participants in this financial conspiracy.
- Cohen confirmed the inaccuracy of the information provided by the president’s lawyer about these payments to federal officials at the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). The president’s lawyer indicated to OGE that the payments were made pursuant to a retainer agreement, but Cohen testified that no such agreement existed—testimony confirmed by federal prosecutors.
- Cohen testified that Trump “knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it.” According to Cohen, he personally discussed the issue with Trump “at least a half-dozen times” during the campaign. Cohen also briefed Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. about the project “in the regular course.”
- Cohen said that President Trump met with Cohen at the White House to discuss his upcoming testimony before the congressional Intelligence Committees in 2017. He testified that the president reinforced the message he expected Cohen to follow. The existence of this meeting, which also included the president’s personal lawyer, was corroborated by an internal White House email on May 16, 2017, which was reviewed by committee members. The email stated: “POTUS requested a meeting on Thursday with Michael Cohen and [Trump attorney] Jay Sekulow.”
- Cohen testified that Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited a draft of his false written statements to Congress on efforts to build Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 campaign. Cohen testified that these lawyers wanted him to stay “on message” by minimizing the extent of negotiations and the involvement of President Trump.
- Cohen stated that Trump provided inflated financial statements to Deutsche Bank while seeking a loan to buy the Buffalo Bills professional football team. Cohen produced the president’s financial statements that reportedly were falsely inflated. Those statements show Trump claimed to have boosted his net worth by more than $3 billion over just nine months. Cohen told the committee that 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 disputed Trump’s claim that he cannot release his tax returns because he is under audit. Cohen said that Trump told him the real reason he has refused to release his tax returns is because he is afraid that “tax experts” will “run through his tax return and start ripping it to pieces” and that the president would then be audited and forced to pay additional taxes and penalties.
Next Steps in the Investigation
Also Wednesday, committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent a letter to former Deputy White Counsel Stefan Passantino and a letter to Trump’s personal attorney Sheri Dillon requesting that they appear for transcribed interviews.
The committee released new documents on February 15, showing that both attorneys were involved in a call in which Dillon appeared to provide inaccurate information to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) relating to the president’s hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, according to the committee.
Cohen himself must now report to prison May 6, to begin serving a three-year sentence for two convictions: fraud and perjury.