The House Intelligence Committee late Monday released two days of sealed testimony given by President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen. Given Cohen has testified publicly since these two appearances, much of the material isn’t new.
But there are some key takeaways — including a big, new allegation that Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow provided him with a false timeline about the Trump Tower Moscow project to give to Congress.
Below are some takeaways.
The Sekulow question
We knew ahead of the release of the transcripts that Cohen had indicated that Sekulow gave him the false timeline which he testified to and later admitted to lying about. What we didn’t know was whether Sekulow knew the timeline was false. That would be necessary to prove Sekulow suborned perjury.
Cohen says Sekulow did know, but he doesn’t really substantiate how he knows that:
Q: And just to be perfectly clear about this, the statement about the Trump Tower negotiations ending in January that was part of your original draft was false, and Mr. Sekulow knew that it was false?
MR. COHEN: Yes, sir.
Cohen also suggests that Sekulow’s denials about his role in drafting the statement were misleading:
Q: Mr. Sekulow’s statement of last week only denies that the edits or changes to the statement were designed to alter the duration of the Moscow Trump Tower negotiations. He says nothing about whether he was aware that it was false to begin with. Was that correct?
COHEN: That’s correct.
Q: ln your view, was this an effort to make a non-denial denial?
COHEN: That’s one way to put it.
Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, went on TV Monday night and said “everybody” knew that timeline was a lie. But again, it’s not clear how he and Cohen know that.
Suggests Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony was ‘inaccurate’
The GOP-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee is bringing Donald Trump Jr. back for more questioning after a brief subpoena fight. The question is whether it’s interested in potential false statements he has made.
Cohen, for one, seems to think Trump Jr. has, at the very least, slow-rolled his awareness of the Trump Tower Moscow project. While Trump Jr. testified that he was only “peripherally aware” of the project, Cohen said he believes that’s “inaccurate” (key part bolded):
Q: Did you brief or discuss periodically the Moscow Trump Tower deal with Don Jr.
Q: So he had more than a passing familiarity that you were working on the project?
COHEN: Yes, because we talked about if the project got going it would be a fun place for us to go to.
Q: lf Mr. Trump, Jr. said that he only had a vague familiarity with the project, would that be accurate or inaccurate?
COHEN: l would say it’s inaccurate.
Q: If he said that he wasn’t very involved at all, would that be inaccurate?
COHEN: I would say that that’s not exactly accurate. There really wasn’t a lot of information at the time. lt was -- we were waiting still again for a piece of property, and that way we can actually design the size and the scope of the project. All the information that -- almost all the information that I had he aware of as well. And then, again, going to lvanka, who was adamant that John Fotiadis, though he’s a great guy and a great architect, you’re not going to get the highest price per square foot off of an architect who is not internationally well-regarded.
Q: But you kept not only Donald Trump but his son, and Don Jr., as well as lvanka apprised of the status of your work on the Moscow Trump Tower project?
COHEN: Yes, but not with the same regularity that I did with Mr. Trump.
It’s worth emphasizing that Cohen doesn’t exactly call Trump Jr. a liar, and he also notes that Trump Jr. wasn’t as apprised as his father. Trump Jr.'s characterization that he was only “peripherally aware” is certainly subjective and difficult to disprove as perjury. But Cohen at the least thinks he was being evasive.
Trump Tower Moscow wasn’t a huge priority
However serious you think it is that Cohen lied to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow timeline — or how objectionable it might be that Trump was pursuing the project even as Republicans were voting for him in 2016 — it’s evident from Cohen’s testimony that this wasn’t a huge priority.
Q: And during the time period February to May of 2016, did you have conversations with Mr. Trump about the project?
COHEN:: l did.
COHEN: And do you have -- can you estimate how many conversations you had with him?
COHEN: I think, in total, approximately 10.
Q: And were any of those conversations about the Trump Tower Moscow jump out in your mind as being particularly noteworthy?
COHEN: No. They were quick conversations that I’d be, whether in his office or walking with him to the elevator or down to a vehicle, because he was leaving for a rally.
Cohen basically describes waiting for documentation and responses to his inquiries and not much progress being made. It’s noteworthy that people were kept apprised, but the fact that he never had a long meeting with Trump about this project during this time period suggests it was something of a back-burner project.
A weird and false recollection
And one exchange encapsulates it. Cohen described his conversations about Trump Tower Moscow and then proceeded to say Trump would go onstage at his rally and talk about “no collusion” and the “witch hunt.”
“What would stick out in my head and be noteworthy is, right after I told him that where I’m still waiting for information regarding the property, he would be out in front of the rally talking about witch hunt and that there’s no Russia, there’s no collusion, there’s nothing here, it’s just not real, there’s no business,” Cohen said.
There’s one problem: This was during the campaign. The Russia investigation wasn’t even launched at the time, much less something Trump was talking about. Trump first mentioned “witch hunt” in the context of Russia in January 2017.