President Donald Trump’s decade-long fixer Michael Cohen said this morning under oath that Trump knew that Wikileaks would release hacked DNC emails before they were published and called his former boss a “racist” “conman.”
Cohen also said Trump while in office as president made multiple secret payments from Trump’s own account to Cohen that were reimbursements for hush money paid to cover up Trump’s alleged extramarital affair.
Such payments would constitute an orchestrated coverup of illegal campaign contributions made by a sitting president.
“I hope my appearance here today, my guilty plea, and my work with law enforcement agencies are steps along a path of redemption that will restore faith in me and help this country understand our president better,” Cohen told the House Oversight Committee.
Regarding his past criminal convictions, including his guilty plea in November that he lied to Congress about a Moscow real estate deal that Trump was pursuing well into his campaign for president, Cohen said:
“Before going further, I want to apologize to each of you and to Congress as a whole. The last time I appeared before Congress, I came to protect Mr. Trump. Today, I’m here to tell the truth about Mr. Trump.”
Cohen said he “pled guilty in federal court to felonies for the benefit of, at the direction of, and in coordination with Individual #1,” and that “Individual #1 is President Donald J. Trump.”
Individual #1 is a well-understood reference to how Special Counsel Robert Mueller has referred to Trump in his criminal filings regarding whether the president or his campaign colluded with Russia to help Trump win the U.S. presidency, or whether Trump obstructed those investigations.
Cohen testified that Trump knew ahead of time that Wikileaks would release hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) aimed at harming Hilary Clinton’s presidential candidacy.
Those emails were hacked by Russians and passed along to Wikileaks in coordination at high levels with the Russian government, according to an indictment of Russian operatives by Special Counsel Mueller.
“A lot of people have asked me about whether Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of time. The answer is yes,” Cohen said.
“As I earlier stated, Mr. Trump knew from Roger Stone in advance about the WikiLeaks drop of emails.
“In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect of ‘wouldn’t that be great,’ Cohen said.
In addition to his testimony, Cohen provided Congress with multiple documents he says prove Trump has repeatedly lied as well as broken laws in service of his presidential campaign and to hide his alleged extramarital affairs and financial malfeasance from the public.
Those documents include copies of checks, one of which Cohen says Trump wrote from his personal bank account after he became president, to reimburse Cohen for “hush money” payments Cohen says he was directed to make to cover up Trump’s alleged affair with porn star Stephanie Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, in order to prevent damage to Trump’s presidential campaign.
Cohen offered compelling testimony in these regards, providing direct evidence that seemed particular damning for the president, who is facing multiple investigations, in addition to the alleged illegal campaign contributions that such hush payments would represent.
“I am giving the Committee today a copy of the $130,000 wire transfer from me to Ms. Clifford’s attorney during the closing days of the presidential campaign that was demanded by Ms. Clifford to maintain her silence about her affair with Mr. Trump,” Cohen said. “This is Exhibit 4 to my testimony.
“Mr. Trump directed me to use my own personal funds from a Home Equity Line of Credit to avoid any money being traced back to him that could negatively impact his campaign. I did that, too – without bothering to consider whether that was improper, much less whether it was the right thing to do or how it would impact me, my family, or the public.
“I am going to jail in part because of my decision to help Mr. Trump hide that payment from the American people before they voted a few days later.
“As Exhibit 5 to my testimony shows, I am providing a copy of a $35,000 check that President Trump personally signed from his personal bank account on August 1, 2017 – when he was President of the United States – pursuant to the cover-up, which was the basis of my guilty plea, to reimburse me – the word used by Mr. Trump’s TV lawyer — for the illegal hush money I paid on his behalf. This $35,000 check was one of 11 check installments that was paid throughout the year – while he was President.
“The President of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws. You can find the details of that scheme, directed by Mr. Trump, in the pleadings in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
“So picture this scene – in February 2017, one month into his presidency, I’m visiting President Trump in the Oval Office for the first time. It’s truly awe-inspiring, he’s showing me around and pointing to different paintings, and he says to me something to the effect of … Don’t worry, Michael, your January and February reimbursement checks are coming. They were FedExed from New York and it takes a while for that to get through the White House system. As he promised, I received the first check for the reimbursement of $70,000 not long thereafter.”
In an answer to a question from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill), Cohen claimed to know of other, albeit unspecified “illegal acts” alleged to have been committed by President Trump, which, Cohen said, are currently under investigation by the Southern District of New York.
Cohen also sought to clarify who and what led him to originally lie to Congress about Trump’s dealings. Trump didn’t directly tell him to lie about the fact a Moscow Trump Tower deal was pursued well into the campaign. Cohen said he instead inferred that it was Trump’s wish that he lie about it, based on Trump’s demeanor at the time, as well as their previous work together which, Cohen said, involved reflexively lying to protect or boost Trump’s reputation.
Trump would during the campaign “look me in the eye” and claim ‘there is no business in Russia,’ Cohen said, at that same time Cohen was negotiating to make this deal happen. Trump would at other times during this same period ask Cohen ‘how is the Russian deal going?’ and would then, Cohen said, “go out and lie to the American people” about it.
“In his way, he was telling me to lie,” Cohen claimed.
“There were at least a half-dozen times between the Iowa Caucus in January 2016 and the end of June when he would ask me “How’s it going in Russia?” – referring to the Moscow Tower project,” Cohen added.
“You need to know that Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it.
“To be clear: Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it,” Cohen said. “He lied about it because he never expected to win the election. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project.
“And so I lied about it, too,” Cohen said, “because Mr. Trump had made clear to me, through his personal statements to me that we both knew were false and through his lies to the country, that he wanted me to lie. And he made it clear to me because his personal attorneys reviewed my statement before I gave it to Congress.”
Other documents he provided include a copy of an article with, Cohen said, Trump’s handwriting on it, that referred to a scheme involving the auction of a portrait of Trump.
Cohen said Trump arranged for a fake highest bidder ahead of time and then reimbursed the straw bidder from the account of his non-profit charitable foundation for the picture, which hangs now in a Trump country club.
“Mr. Trump directed me to find a straw bidder to purchase a portrait of him that was being auctioned at an Art Hamptons Event,” Cohen testified. “The objective was to ensure that his portrait, which was going to be auctioned last, would go for the highest price of any portrait that afternoon. The portrait was purchased by the fake bidder for $60,000. Mr. Trump directed the Trump Foundation, which is supposed to be a charitable organization, to repay the fake bidder, despite keeping the art for himself. Please see Exhibit 3B to my testimony.”
Other documents include copies of Trump financial statements from 2011 to 2013 provided to multiple institutions including Deutsche Bank, which Cohen said show “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.
Other exhibits include letters Cohen says he wrote at Trump’s direction that threatened his high school, colleges and the College Board not to release Trump’s grades or SAT scores.
As to his claims of Trump’s racism, Cohen says Trump “once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a ‘shithole.’ This was when Barack Obama was President of the United States.”
Another time driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, Cohen said Trump “commented that only black people could live that way. And… that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
Cohen also said Trump routinely cheated his business partners out of money.
“And it should come as no surprise that one of my more common responsibilities was that Mr. Trump directed me to call business owners, many of whom were small businesses, that were owed money for their services and told them no payment or a reduced payment would be coming. When I advised Mr. Trump of my success, he actually reveled in it,” Cohen said.
“The sad fact is that I never heard Mr. Trump say anything in private that led me to believe he loved our nation or wanted to make it better,” Cohen testified. “In fact, he did the opposite.
“When telling me in 2008 that he was cutting employees’ salaries in half – including mine – he showed me what he claimed was a $10 million IRS tax refund, and he said that he could not believe how stupid the government was for giving “someone like him” that much money back.
Cohen also said Trump told him during the campaign that he schemed to get out of serving in Vietnam. This was at a time when Trump was disparaging the prisoner of war status of then veteran and former Sen.(R-Ari) John McCain.
“During the campaign, Mr. Trump said he did not consider… McCain to be ‘a hero’ because he likes people who weren’t captured. At the same time, Mr. Trump tasked me to handle the negative press surrounding his medical deferment from the Vietnam draft.
“Mr. Trump claimed it was because of a bone spur, but when I asked for medical records, he gave me none and said there was no surgery,” Cohen testified. “He told me not to answer the specific questions by reporters but rather offer simply the fact that he received a medical deferment.
“He finished the conversation with the following comment: ‘You think I’m stupid, I wasn’t going to Vietnam.'”
It should be noted here that Trump also told the New York Times in August 2016 that he had no operation for the condition.
Cohen also testified that Trump didn’t want to become president, but that he was pursuing the campaign to further enrich himself; not because he had any particular political or policy passions such as those he touted during the campaign, like immigration or the plight of domestic manufacturing workers and jobs.
“Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great,” Cohen said. “He had no desire or intention to lead this nation – only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the ‘greatest infomercial in political history.’
“He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign – for him – was always a marketing opportunity.
“I knew early on in my work for Mr. Trump that he would direct me to lie to further his business interests,” Cohen said. “I am ashamed to say, that when it was for a real estate mogul in the private sector, I considered it trivial. As the President, I consider it significant and dangerous.”
Throughout Congressional questioning, Cohen showed the poise of a prepared, capable witness and debate opponent with formidable verbal sparring capabilities. He seemed to meet attacks from Trump-allied, mostly GOP Congressmen, on his credibility, by undercutting those arguments, mostly by sticking to his redemption narrative and appearing unshaken, loose and amicable, occasionally disarming his interlocutors by showing humility or making deadpan jokes.
When Rep. James Comer (R-Ky) asked:
“Mr. Cohen, you called Donald Trump a cheat in your opening testimony. What would you call yourself?”
“A fool,” Cohen said quickly.
“You calling… uh,… Well, no comment on that,” Comer managed.
“I appreciate that,” Cohen replied.
He laid out the defense of his character by repeatedly saying he was taking responsibility for his crimes, is remorseful and is concerned primarily for the well-being of his family.
“I made mistakes, I own them.
“I am ashamed of my own failings, and I publicly accepted responsibility for them by pleading guilty in the Southern District of New York.
“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.”