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Michael Cohen’s three days of Capitol Hill testimony, explained

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, will testify before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 27. (Video: Reuters)
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Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III isn’t expected to submit his report to the Justice Department this week. That means the big news on that front will be Michael Cohen, who is expected to deliver “scathing” testimony about his former boss, President Trump.

So with Cohen set to appear on Capitol Hill each of the next three days, here’s a little primer.

Where is he testifying?

Cohen is testifying for three straight days, but only one of the hearings will be public. After testifying behind closed doors on Tuesday to the Senate Intelligence Committee, he has a public date Wednesday with the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee, and then will go back behind closed doors Thursday with the House Intelligence Committee.

Cohen’s testimony to all three committees has been delayed, with the stated reasons being threats from President Trump (who has alleged wrongdoing by Cohen’s family members) and Cohen’s recovery from shoulder surgery.

Cohen will deliver his testimony a little more than two months before he is supposed to report for a three-year prison term for the nine counts he has pleaded guilty to.

Why is this a big deal?

Cohen is the first member of Trump’s inner circle to provide eyewitness testimony about alleged misdeeds by the president. While other former aides have flipped and spoken to prosecutors, Cohen has spoken publicly and indicated that he thinks it’s his duty to atone for his own wrongdoing. And now that Democrats control the House, he has been given a platform.

Even before testifying, Cohen has spoken out repeatedly about Trump, has helped prosecutors implicate him in campaign finance violations and has reached a key plea deal with Mueller in which he admitted to lying about the Trump Tower Moscow effort.

Cohen is not just a former campaign aide, but also someone who had been around Trump years before by serving as his personal lawyer and “fixer.” In other words, he is someone who could speak to many different facets of Trump. That combination and Cohen’s stated desire to hold Trump accountable makes him a one-of-a-kind witness. Although Cohen has spoken publicly, it has been infrequent, and we don’t know what else he might be prepared to disclose or allege.

President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen started three consecutive days of congressional testimony on Feb. 26. (Video: Reuters)

What is he testifying about?

Back when Cohen’s testimony was first announced, I outlined five areas he could shed some light on. Here’s a brief summary of each (and for those who want to go deeper, here are 20 more from The Post’s Matt Zapotosky and Rosalind S. Helderman):

  1. How exactly did Trump direct the hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal? These are the campaign finance violations Cohen has helped implicate Trump in. Trump has denied telling Cohen to break the law, but Cohen says Trump knew what he was doing was illegal. The question is: How?
  2. What did Trump know and when about Trump Tower Moscow? BuzzFeed News has reported that Cohen told investigators that Trump told him to lie about this, but Mueller’s office disputed that. Even setting that aside, though, how involved was Trump in an effort that involved outreach to the Kremlin during the early part of 2016?
  3. What is Allen Weisselberg’s role in all this? The Trump Organization CFO’s name has rarely surfaced, but given prosecutors’ apparent interest in the Trump Organization — and given Weisselberg’s decades of service to Trump and his father, Fred Trump — he could wind up being a major figure. Remember: He has reached an immunity deal with prosecutors, and in that taped conversation Cohen released of him and Trump talking about hush money, Cohen alluded to consulting Weisselberg — twice.
  4. Is there anything to these Prague stories? Cohen has repeatedly denied McClatchy’s reporting that he might have been in Prague around the time that, according to an allegation in the Steele dossier, he was there strategizing about the 2016 election with the Kremlin. So what might explain those reports?
  5. What other Trump shenanigans might he talk about? Cohen could be limited in talking about some or all of the things above if they involve ongoing investigations. But what about other things that he might bring to the world’s attention for the first time? If this was the guy Trump went to for the hush-money payments — and if he truly served as Trump’s “fixer” — there could be plenty of other material.

So what is off-limits?

Given Cohen is a figure in both the Mueller investigation and in the Southern District of New York’s Trump-related probes, and that those probes are ongoing, he will be limited in certain ways.

The Post’s Karoun Demirjian and Zapotosky report that Cohen “is expected to deliver specific and scathing testimony about his former boss’s business interests in Russia and a scheme to buy the silence of adult film actress Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election.” They also say all questions about the Russia investigation will be handled in the private hearings Tuesday and Thursday.

A source close to Cohen said he should be able to answer “all questions except subjects under SDNY investigation” and “limited issues before special counsel.”

Parsing what is and isn’t fair game as the hearings progress will be a subplot, in and of itself.

Also keep in mind that, while he will be testifying behind closed doors on Tuesday and Thursday, those interviews could eventually be released, as other Intelligence Committee interviews have been.