Michael Cohen Testimony: Key Updates

One thing that I thought was worth noting about Mr. Cohen’s testimony was the evidence he provided that Trump had given him a check for $35,000 which appears to have been signed by the president while he was in office on August 1, 2017. 




(I have provided a large portion of the content of an article below for those of you who do not have a subscription to the New York Times.)


In one of the most dramatic congressional hearings of recent years, Mr. Cohen, once among President Trump’s most trusted aides and lawyers, pointed the finger at his former boss, accusing him of criminal behavior, dishonesty and racism.

[Live analysis from our correspondents is here.]

  • Mr. Cohen said that Mr. Trump, after becoming president, told him to lie to the public about hush payments to the pornographic film star Stormy Daniels.

  • Mr. Cohen presented life in “Trump world” as a Faustian bargain in which he and others sacrificed their integrity for the “intoxicating” whiff of power.

  • Mr. Cohen acknowledged that he lied under oath to Congress about a Trump Tower project in Moscow, saying he was trying to protect Mr. Trump. “I am not protecting Mr. Trump anymore,” he said.

  • Republicans are assailing his credibility, noting that he is going to prison in two months for lying to Congress.

  • Mr. Cohen said he had no evidence of collusion with Russia but did have suspicions.

  • Mr. Cohen offered a blistering assessment of the president: “He is a racist. He is a con man. And he is a cheat.” And Mr. Cohen provided documents including copies of checks and financial statements. [Read his opening statement.]

Watch the State of the Union with live analysis.

Mr. Cohen said Mr. Trump asked him to lie to the public about a scheme hatched in the run-up to the 2016 election to make $130,000 in hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress who claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Cohen said that Mr. Trump, as a candidate, initiated the hush payment plan and, while president, arranged for 11 checks reimbursing the lawyer “as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws,” a crime to which Mr. Cohen has pleaded guilty.

After news reports about the payments in February 2018, Mr. Cohen told lawmakers, the president called him to discuss what the lawyer should say publicly about the scheme. Mr. Trump told him to say that the president “was not knowledgeable of these reimbursements and he wasn’t knowledgeable of” Mr. Cohen’s actions.

Democrats pressed Mr. Cohen on whether Mr. Trump provided false financial information to hide the money paid to Ms. Daniels. Mr. Trump’s annual personal financial disclosure statement in 2017 made no reference to reimbursing Mr. Cohen that year for the hush payment.

But the statement filed by Mr. Trump last year included a footnote indicating a repayment of $100,001 to $250,000 to Mr. Cohen, raising questions about whether the 2017 filing had improperly omitted the debt. While the 2018 statement did not specify the purpose of the payment, it is understood to refer to the hush payment.

“Why do you think the president did not provide the accurate information in his 2017 financial disclosure form?” Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, asked Mr. Cohen on Wednesday. “What was he trying to hide?

Mr. Cohen said the goal of the payment was to prevent Ms. Daniels from telling her story. “That would have embarrassed the president and it would have interfered with the election,” he said.

Mr. Cohen described his 10 years working for Mr. Trump as a trip into a world of deceit in which the lawyer ignored his own conscience in order to get close to a magnetic person of power.

“Sitting here today, it seems unbelievable that I was so mesmerized by Donald Trump that I was willing to do things for him that I knew were absolutely wrong,” Mr. Cohen said. When he met Mr. Trump, he knew him as “a real estate giant” and icon. “Being around Mr. Trump was intoxicating,” he said.

In private business, Mr. Cohen said he rationalized Mr. Trump’s dishonesty as “trivial” but as president, he said, “I consider it significant and dangerous.”

Having pleaded guilty to a series of crimes, Mr. Cohen said he had recognized that he sacrificed his own ethics and was seeking redemption for his own misdeeds.

“The more people who follow Mr. Trump as I did blindly are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering,” he said. “I lost it all.”

Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s chairman, released a memo laying out the hearing’s scope last week. Conspicuously absent: Russia and its election interference campaign.

After consulting with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, lawmakers determined that Mr. Cohen would generally not be allowed to publicly discuss matters related to its continuing investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian election manipulation efforts.

But Mr. Cohen did testify that Mr. Trump personally monitored negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, asking about it “at least a half-dozen times” between January and June 2016 while running for president. “Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it,” Mr. Cohen said in his opening statement.

And while Mr. Trump did not explicitly instruct him to lie, through his actions he “made clear to me” that “he wanted me to lie” and the president’s lawyers reviewed Mr. Cohen’s false testimony to Congress about the Moscow project, Mr. Cohen said.

Republicans on the committee aggressively challenged Mr. Cohen, noting that he had already pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and therefore could not be trusted. Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican, called Mr. Cohen a “fraudster, cheat, convicted felon and, in two months, a federal inmate.”

Mr. Jordan questioned Mr. Cohen’s motives in assailing Mr. Trump’s character and actions, suggesting that Mr. Cohen was embittered because the new president did not bring him to Washington.

“You wanted to work in the White House — ” Mr. Jordan said.

“No, sir,” Mr. Cohen replied.

“ — and didn’t get brought to the dance.”

“I did not want to go to the White House,” Mr. Cohen asserted.

Eric Trump, another of the president’s sons, took issue with that on Twitter. “Michael was lobbying EVERYONE to be ‘Chief of Staff,’” he wrote. “It was the biggest joke in the campaign and around the office. Did he just perjure himself again?”

While the president was in Vietnam for a meeting with North Korea’s leader, his re-election campaign organization echoed the attack in a statement calling Mr. Cohen a convicted perjurer. “This is the same Michael Cohen who has admitted that he lied to Congress previously,” Kayleigh McEnany, the campaign’s national press secretary, said in the statement. “Why did they even bother to swear him in this time?”

Mr. Cohen said he had no “direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia.” But, he added, “I have my suspicions.”

He pointed to the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in which Donald Trump Jr., the candidate’s eldest son; Jared Kushner, his son-in-law; and Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman; met with visiting Russians after being told that they had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.

The president has denied knowing about the meeting at the time, but Mr. Cohen cast doubt on that, saying he was in Mr. Trump’s office in June 2016 once when Donald Jr. came in, went behind his father’s desk and, speaking in a low voice, said, “The meeting is all set.” The candidate, he said, replied, “O.K., good. Let me know.”

Mr. Cohen said that might have referred to the Russia meeting because “Mr. Trump had frequently told me and others that his son Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world” and that his son “would never set up any meeting of significance alone and certainly not without checking with his father.”

Mr. Cohen painted a vivid and damning portrait of Mr. Trump, comparing him to a mobster who inflated his net worth, rigged an art auction, paid off women, frequently used racist language, expected aides to lie on his behalf and committed criminal conduct even after he took office.

Mr. Cohen provided several documents to the committee. He offered what he said were financial statements that Mr. Trump gave to institutions such as Deutsche Bank and said the president inflated or deflated his assets when it served his purposes.

See Trump’s Checks to Michael Cohen and Other Documents

He also gave a copy of an article with Mr. Trump’s handwriting on it reporting about an auction of a portrait of himself that he said the president rigged. Mr. Cohen said Mr. Trump arranged for a bidder to buy the portrait at the auction, then reimbursed the bidder from Mr. Trump’s charitable foundation. The picture hangs in one of Mr. Trump’s country clubs, Mr. Cohen said.

Mr. Cohen also offered copies of letters he said he wrote “at Mr. Trump’s direction” threatening his high school, colleges and the College Board not to release his grades or SAT scores.

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