●He sparred aggressively with GOP lawmakers, who questioned his credibility and motives for coming forward.
●He detailed how deeply and personally involved Trump was in the scheme to pay off an adult-film actress who alleged that she had an affair with Trump.
● He described how he, like many in Trump’s orbit, had long sought to protect the president, but made clear: “I am not protecting Mr. Trump anymore.”
● He suggested that federal prosecutors are investigating unspecified criminal allegations involving the president that have not been made public.
5:30 : Cummings: Cohen wants to ‘make sure our democracy stays intact’
In extemporaneous and occasionally rousing final remarks, Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) sought to portray Cohen’s path to redemption as one the country should follow.
“If we as a nation did not give people an opportunity after they made mistakes to change their lives, a whole lot of people would not do very well,” Cummings said.
Rebutting Republicans’ attempts to portray Cohen as a deceitful opportunist, Cummings said that the former fixer had been trying to send a message when he testified about the president’s alleged misdeeds.
“It sounds like you’re crying out . . . for us getting back to normal,” Cummings said. “It sounds to me like you want to make sure our democracy stays intact.”
Cohen sat silently while appearing to wipe away tears.
As Cummings concluded his remarks and adjourned the hearing, cheers rose.
5:25: Jordan: Cohen was lying then, and he’s lying now
In his concluding remarks, Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the ranking Republican, reminded the committee that “Mr. Cohen has been dishonest in the past,” then accused him of misleading the committee in his testimony Wednesday.
“There are things he said today . . . that just don’t add up,” Jordan said, before launching into a litany of what he claimed were erroneous or incomplete statements Cohen had made. Among them, Jordan said, were Cohen’s claims that he never defrauded a bank; that he said he had no contact with foreign entities (though Cohen says he answered accurately on the committee’s disclosure form); that he didn’t set up a self-promotional Twitter account; and that he never wanted a job in the Trump administration. Jordan also said Cohen had violated his duty as Trump’s lawyer by never considering whether paying off women was appropriate.
Jordan again blasted Cummings for bringing Cohen to testify instead of focusing on other oversight matters.
5:17: Cohen fears Trump will not relinquish power peacefully if he loses in 2020
Cohen concluded his public testimony with perhaps his harshest comments of the day about the man he once served loyally, asserting that he fears what could happen in 2020 should Trump lose his bid for reelection.
“My loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything,” he said. “I will not sit back, say nothing and allow him to do the same to the country.”
“Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power, and this is why I agreed to appear before you today,” he said.
He concluded with biting remarks addressed directly at Trump himself. “We honor our veterans, even in the rain,” he said, a reference to Trump’s decision to cancel a planned trip to a cemetery while visiting France because rain grounded his helicopter.
“You don’t use the power of your bully pulpit to destroy the credibility of those who speak out against you,” he said.
“This behavior is churlish. It denigrates the office of president of the United States and it is simply un-American.
“I pray the country does not make the same mistakes I have made,” he said.
5:10: Charges of racism hit close to home as Trump dispute gets personal
The final questions in Cohen’s hearing devolved into a passionate argument that had almost nothing to do with the witness, after two Democratic freshmen — Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) — said that just because Trump might have a black friend didn’t mean that he wasn’t a racist. (Cohen agreed.)
The statements harked back to a moment from earlier in the hearing, when Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) had Department of Housing and Urban Development employee Lynne Patton, who is black, stand behind him as he challenged Cohen’s characterization of Trump as someone who freely expressed racist sentiments. Tlaib made the direct connection, opining that it “is alone racist in itself … to use a black woman as a prop” to disprove Cohen’s statements.
A red-faced Meadows immediately objected to what he interpreted as Tlaib calling him a racist, demanding that Tlaib’s comments be removed from the record of the hearing — and accusing her of being the racist in the room.
“It’s racist to suggest that I asked her to come in for that reason,” Meadows said.
But Tlaib defended her comments, telling the panel that she was criticizing the act as racist, not Meadows as a person — and apologizing if it sounded different.
Cummings reminded people that he is the son of former sharecroppers in settling the spat.
“I can see and feel your pain,” he said to Meadows — who, he told the assembled audience, is one of his best friends. “And I don’t think Ms. Tlaib intends to cause you that kind of pain and that kind of frustration.”
4:56 p.m.: AOC focuses on Trump’s tendency to falsely state assets
Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has had her shot at Cohen. She spent her time focused on Cohen’s testimony that Trump would falsely inflate the value of his assets in settings where he could gain financial or reputational advantage — and then deflate them in other instances for the same reason.
For instance, Cohen told Ocasio-Cortez that Trump submitted “inflated” assets to insurance companies at times. In other instances, Trump has down played the value of his golf courses to local tax officials, in an effort to get tax breaks.
4:49 p.m.: Cohen guesses Trump lied about his tax returns being under audit
Trump told the public that an ongoing audit prevented him from releasing his tax returns during the 2016 campaign. But his former lawyer said that the reason Trump didn’t want to release his tax returns is because he was afraid of an audit — and doubts the one Trump referenced ever existed.
“What he didn’t want was to have an entire group of think tanks that are tax experts run through his tax return and start ripping it to pieces,” Cohen said Trump told him. “Then he’ll end up in an audit and he’ll ultimately have taxable consequences, penalties, and so on.”
When Trump said an audit was preventing him from releasing his tax returns, Cohen asked Trump for a copy, he said — but he “was never able to obtain one.”
“I presume that he was not under audit,” Cohen said.
4:40 p.m. : President’s son involved with adult actress reimbursements
Under questioning by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Cohen said that Trump, his son, Donald Trump Jr., and Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg were aware that the payments to Stormy Daniels were being made to keep her affair with Trump from becoming public. Cohen has already implicated Trump in his plea deal with prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.
“There are three other people who were equally involved in this conspiracy?” Khanna asked?
“Yes,” Cohen replied.
Khanna called the transaction a “scheme” that constitutes “financial fraud,” and is separate from any potential wrongdoing Mueller is investigating. Khanna asked whether the transaction was being investigated by the Southern District, but Cohen declined to answer, saying “it could be part of an investigation that’s currently ongoing.”
Khanna also noted that the payments to Cohen were made from a Trump trust, which Cohen confirmed. Asked whether he knew why he was being paid out of a trust, as opposed to the company’s accounts, Cohen said he didn’t know. “I was just happy to get the check.”
4:32 p.m.: Testimony resumes, as committee clears up foreign disclosure issue
After a lengthy afternoon break, Cohen has resumed his blockbuster testimony to the House Oversight Committee.
The committee began with an issue that Republicans had pressed earlier in the day — whether Cohen had properly disclosed to the committee contracts he has held with foreign companies.
After consulting with his lawyers, Cohen told the committee that he did not believe he was required to disclose his contracts with any foreign businesses, because a disclosure form he received asked for money from foreign governments. Cohen said he was willing to disclose his contact with a bank in Kazakhstan, which he argued was not a government entity though it is majority-owned by the Kazakh government.
Jordan, the ranking Republican, said Cohen should also disclose his work for a Korean entity. Cummings, the committee chairman, said he would work with Cohen on making the disclosures and that they were not “an unreasonable request.”
3:37 p.m.: Trump campaign spokeswoman blasts Cohen
Trump remains in Vietnam and hasn’t responded to Cohen’s testimony aside from a morning tweet. His 2020 campaign spokeswoman, though, blasted Cohen’s credibility in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“Michael Cohen is a felon, a disbarred lawyer, and a convicted perjurer, who lied to both Congress and the Special Counsel in a ‘deliberate and premeditated’ fashion according to the Special Counsel’s Office,” the spokeswoman, Kayleigh McEnany, wrote. “Now he offers what he says is evidence, but the only support for that is his own testimony, which has proved before to be worthless. As noted by the Southern District of New York, Cohen’s wide array of crimes were ‘marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life’ and his ‘instinct to blame others is strong.’ Prosecutors said his actions were to ensure that he would ‘profit personally, build his own power, and enhance his level of influence.’ This is the same Michael Cohen who has admitted that he lied to Congress previously. Why did they even bother to swear him in this time?”
3:31 p.m.: Assange lawyer denies that Roger Stone had call with WikiLeaks founder
Cohen alleged in his opening statement that he listened in on a call in July 2016 in which Roger Stone claimed to Trump he had talked with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and he thus knew the organization was about to release a batch of emails.
Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Assange, denied that Stone had such a call with Assange.
“Roger Stone did not have the telephone call Michael Cohen described Stone claiming to have had with Julian Assange,” Pollack said. “It is ironic that while Stone and Cohen have both been charged with lying, and the public tries to untangle those lies, Mr. Assange apparently faces criminal charges in the Eastern District of Virginia for his role in publishing truthful information.”
2:34 p.m.: Cohen says he felt Trump was threatening him
Cohen delayed his appearance before the Oversight Committee for almost a month because he felt Trump was threatening him — but it’s Trump’s army of loyal followers he appears to fear most.
Trump could do “a lot” to hurt him, Cohen told Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.). “And it’s not just him, it’s those people.”
The people Cohen was referring to are, in his own words, the “60-plus million people that follow [Trump] on social media,” who often heed what Trump says. Some of those followers, Cohen said, have sent him messages over various social platform threatening him and his children — messages he said he has turned over to the Secret Service.
Cohen recalled Trump’s statement “that he can walk down Fifth Avenue, shoot someone and get away with it” — noting that after Trump started calling him a “rat,” he took those to heart.
“I don’t walk with my wife to go to a restaurant or go somewhere. I don’t walk with my children, I make them go before me,” Cohen said.
“Never in my life did I think Mr. Trump would do something so disgraceful,” Cohen said. “He’s attacking them because he knows I care about my family.”
2:25 p.m.: Cohen: Trump made me lie to Melania about Stormy payments
Cohen testified that Trump called on him to not only lie to the American public about campaign-time hush payments to adult-film star Stormy Daniels — but also his wife, Melania.
During a back-and-forth with Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), Cohen said Trump phoned him one day when he was in the car with a friend and then handed the phone to his wife so he would deny the allegations and the hush payments.
“Not only did I lie to the American people, I lied to the first lady,” Cohen said.
Steube used his time to call into question Cohen’s claim that Trump knew about and reimbursed him to buy the silence of women alleging sexual relationships with Trump during the 2016 election.
“There is absolutely no proof that those payments were for those specific purposes. Is that correct?” Steube asked.
Cohen seemed annoyed, noting that he had presented the panel with two of the 11 checks Trump wrote to reimburse him.
“Do you have any proof?” Steube asked. “Just the payments,” Cohen responded. “So, no email?” the Republican pressed. “Mr. Trump doesn’t have email!” Cohen said. “No text message?” Steube continued. “Mr. Trump doesn’t text,” Cohen said.
“I don’t believe that anybody out there thinks that I just decided to pay $130,000” for nothing, Cohen said.
But his last response put the entire line of questioning to rest: Trump’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani himself had come out to say Trump reimbursed Cohen for the hush payments, Cohen said.
2:15 p.m.: Cohen claims he talked to Corey Lewandowski about ‘business travel to Russia’
When Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his pursuit of a possible Trump Tower Project in Russia during the campaign, court documents contained an interesting revelation.
Cohen, the documents said, was said to have discussed business travel to Russia with a senior campaign official. The official, though, was not identified, nor were there enough clues to effectively identify the person.
Under questioning from Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Cohen said the official was Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s then-campaign manager. Cohen said he and Lewandowski discussed what dates Trump might have available — though the trip never came to fruition, because Cohen could not actually get ownership of a piece of property in Russia.
At the time of Cohen’s plea, Lewandowski denied he was the official referred to in court records. “100% not true,” he said in a text message. He did not immediately return another message Wednesday.
2:10 p.m.: Cohen: “I’ve never been to Prague”
Cohen killed the Prague Saga — again.
The president’s former lawyer said under oath that he has never visited the Czech Republic, a revelation that calls into question the veracity of a salacious document alleging that Russians were blackmailing Trump.
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) used the tail-end of his five minutes to ask Cohen about an allegation in the “dossier” complied by ex-British spy Christopher Steele that he’d visited Prague during in the summer of 2016 to meet with Kremlin officials. According to the document, Cohen was there to discuss a payment to the hackers who breached the Democratic National Committee.
But Cohen said that wasn’t possible. Why? Because, “I’ve never been to Prague.”
Norman did not follow up on his answer.
Cohen’s statement also calls into question reports that seemed to substantiate the Prague claim in the dossier. McClatchy reported last year that the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III had proof that Cohen was in Prague that summer and that it had phone records substantiating his presence.
2:01 p.m.: Cohen says he is not aware of a Trump ‘love child’
Cohen mentioned earlier during the day how American Media Inc. chief executive David Pecker paid off more people than just Stormy Daniels. The Daniels episode, he told Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), was “different than other times” — which is why he took the matter straight to Trump.
But there were other circumstances, Cohen said, when Pecker would make “catch and kill” transactions to silence stories that might hurt Trump, and “not all of them had to do with women.”
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) asked for examples. Cohen gave him a juicy one: a $15,000 payment to find out if an elevator operator knew anything about a story that Trump had a love child with an employee.
Cohen said he didn’t. But, he said, Pecker had buried plenty of other stories that could look bad for the president if they ever emerged.
“When David [Pecker] was looking to become CEO of Time magazine, we were concerned about the treasure trove of documents” he might leave behind, Cohen said.
Cohen said, too, that he was not aware of any Trump “love child,” though he said that Pecker paid $15,000 to a former Trump employee who claimed he had such knowledge, again, for the purpose of killing the story.
2 p.m.: Cohen says he does not believe Trump mistreated wife or long rumored tape exists
Various news outlets have reported that in October 2016, a secret auction was held to purchase a tape that was said to contain footage of Trump striking or otherwise hurting his wife Melania in an elevator. Cohen told the committee that he was aware of rumors of the tape but did not believe it has ever existed. What’s more, he said he does not believe Trump ever hit or mistreated his wife.
“I’ve heard about that tape for years,” he said, in response to questions from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). “I don’t believe that auction was real, and I don’t believe that Mr. Trump ever struck Mrs. Trump. Ever.”
Cohen said that he was aware of four or five people who tried to buy the rumored tape, he said the purposes of burying it so it would not become public. None were ever able to locate the tape, leading him to believe it did not exist.
1:56 p.m.: Trump knew DNC email dump was coming, even if he didn’t know what it would do
Cohen related a meeting he had with Trump in mid-July 2016, in which Roger Stone told Trump over speakerphone that he “just got off the phone with Julian Assange, and in a couple of days there’s going to be a massive dump of emails that’s going to significantly hurt the Clinton campaign.”
Cohen said he wasn’t sure if Trump knew the substance of what those emails would say. He added that Trump’s longtime secretary, Rhona Graff, would have also been aware of the call, as she transferred it back to Trump’s office.
Cohen guessed the meeting took place on July 18 or 19 — the first tranche of emails released by the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks would come out just a few days later.
1:50 p.m.: Did Cohen actually want a White House job?
The question has been kicking around the committee hearing room a few times Wednesday, as Cohen has said repeatedly that he never wanted a job in the administration, and was content to just serve as Trump’s lawyer.
The problem is, federal prosecutors thought otherwise — and those words are emblazoned on a display board prominently featured on the Republican side of the dais.
“[Cohen] expected to be given a prominent role and title in the new administration. When that did not materialize, Cohen found a way to monetize his relationship with the president,” the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York is quoted as saying.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) asked Cohen repeatedly if he was accusing the U.S. attorney of lying. Cohen said no — but also insisted that the statement was “not accurate.”
“I did not want the role in the new administration,” Cohen said. “I got exactly the role that I wanted. There is no shame in being personal attorney to the president.”
1:40 p.m.: Cohen on Trump: “He speaks in code, and I understand the code”
Cohen has testified that while Trump never directed him to lie to Congress about a potential Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016, he made his desires known through hints.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) asked Cohen to elaborate more on these hints that Trump would give, seeking to shed light on how Trump gives orders without saying the words specifically.
Cohen said Trump likes to give orders by making a sweeping claim — then asking a question that’s not really a question, per se. Cohen likened it to a powerful individual pointing to his tie and claiming it’s “the nicest looking tie!”—then asking a subordinate if he or she agrees.
Similarly, Cohen has testified that while the two were in frequent contact about the prospect of a Trump Tower Moscow during the campaign, Trump would at times look at him and say something along the lines of, “There is no Moscow project.” Cohen said he took that as a sign to lie to the public and to Congress about Trump’s business interests in Russia during the campaign.
“He speaks in a code, and I understand the code,” Cohen said.
1:35 p.m.: Cohen: Trump was in on the hush-payment lie
Cohen testified that the president personally called him to make sure he continued to lie about hush payments made to women alleging sexual relationships with him during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Rep. Katie Hill, a freshman Democrat from California, used her time to ask Cohen about Trump’s role overseeing his former lawyer’s lies to the public about the payments. When news first broke about the payments, Cohen lied to the public, saying he used his own personal funds and that “neither the Trump Organization nor Trump Campaign were party to the transaction.”
“Was that statement false?” Hill asked.
Cohen said no — “because I personally left out Trump individually from that statement.”
“That’s what was discussed to do between myself, Mr. Trump and Allen Weisselberg,” the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, Cohen said.
Cohen also said Trump called him during an interview with a reporter making sure that he continued the misleading claim.
1:30 p.m.: Did Cohen lie again?
Republican lawmakers, led by Meadows, charged Cohen with intentionally omitting foreign contracts he has held in the past two years from a “truth in testimony” form he filled out before Wednesday’s hearing — something, that if true, would count as another lie to Congress.
But there’s a dispute about whether the GOP actually read the questions right.
The short, two-page form — a copy of Cohen’s was provided to The Washington Post — shows that he wrote “N/A” in two places asking him to disclose contracts with foreign entities. Yet according to his own testimony, Cohen has held foreign contracts within the past two years.
Meadows lept on this discrepancy, demanding Cohen explain why he had appeared to lie to Congress yet again. Cohen claimed he hadn’t, promising to consult with his lawyer and amend the form if he made a mistake.
For a hearing in which the central theme has been Cohen’s credibility, the omission would have been an example of the point the GOP has been making: Once a liar, always a liar, and his testimony against Trump should not be trusted.
But Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) pointed out, the form has a footnote: For witnesses not representing a government, the foreign contracts and payments that must be disclosed are those “originating with a foreign government.”
Cohen maintains his foreign contracts did not involve foreign governments.
1:24 p.m.: Felix Sater takes center stage
Rep. Harley Rouda Jr. (D-Calif.) used his time to press Cohen about Trump’s relationship with Felix Sater, a former Trump business associate who had deals to build Trump Soho in New York, as well as to attempt to build in Fort Lauderdale, Moscow and elsewhere. Sater also worked with Cohen during the presidential campaign to pursue a Trump Tower in Moscow.
In sworn testimony in a 2013 deposition, Trump had testified that he wouldn’t recognize Sater if the two were in the same room. But Cohen testified that Sater was a business partner and had been given both a Trump business card and an office in the Trump Organization’s suite. These details had been known previously, but Cohen was able to offer a personal touch: He testified that he was quite familiar with Sater’s office, since he took over the same space after Sater vacated it.
Rouda referred to Sater repeatedly as a “convicted Russian mobster.” Sater immigrated to the United States from Soviet Russia as a child. In 1998, he was convicted of taking part in a stock pump-and-dump fraud that used members of the Italian mob as muscle. He was spared prison time and prosecutors kept his plea deal under seal for years while he assisted the government and provided information on issues related to organized crime and national security. When information about his involvement in the scheme became public, Trump sought to distance himself from his onetime partner, including in the 2013 deposition.
Asked by Rouda if Trump was being misleading in the deposition or, “at worst, lying under oath,” Cohen responded simply, “yes.”
1:20 p.m.: Cohen says Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow edited congressional testimony later found to be false
Cohen asserted Wednesday that Jay Sekulow, Trump’s lawyer, edited the congressional testimony to Congress that he would later admit was false — implying that Sekulow might have, in part, caused it to be wrong.
Cohen confirmed to Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) that Sekulow was the lawyer he alleged previously had edited his congressional testimony, and he confirmed, importantly, one of the changes had to do with “the length of time that the Trump Tower Moscow project stayed and remained alive.” Cohen has admitted he lied about the project, telling lawmakers discussions about it ended by January 2016, when in fact they continued into the summer — the heart of the presidential campaign.
“There were several changes that were made, including, how we were going to handle that message,” Cohen said when asked about Sekulow’s edits. “Which was — the message of course being the length of time that the Trump Tower Moscow project stayed and remained alive.”
“That was one of the changes?” Raskin said.
“Yes,” Cohen responded.
In response to questions later from Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Cohen said he electronically circulated his written testimony before speaking to Congress previously to a group of lawyers for the president and others because he was part of a joint defense agreement. He said the testimony was reviewed, for instance, by a Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner. Asked, however, to cite specific edits made to the document by Sekulow, he said he could not cite any without reviewing the document.
1:15 p.m.: Trump’s implicit message: No Russia, no collusion — and make sure prosecutors know
Cohen was asked to describe whether the president gave any orders during a May 2017 meeting held the day after special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was appointed.
During the meeting with Cohen and Jay Sekulow, Cohen recalled Trump saying things like “it’s all a witch hunt and this stuff has to end.”
“He’d been saying that to me more many, many months,” Cohen said. “At the end of the day, I knew exactly what he wanted me to say.”
In the months that followed, Cohen would be called in to speak with lawmakers — to whom he lied about Trump business dealings in Russia — and eventually, prosecutors, who would charge him for those lies, and financial crimes. He pleaded guilty in December and is expected to begin a three-year prison sentence in May.
Cohen also recalled how Trump had told him: “Michael, there’s no collusion, there’s no Russia, there’s no involvement, no interference.”
“That’s the message, the stay on point, that’s the party line that he created,” Cohen explained. “That’s the message that he wanted to reinforce.”
1 p.m.: Cohen sidesteps question about last conversation with Trump, cites ongoing criminal probe
Cohen suggested federal prosecutors in New York are investigating some unspecified crime involving Trump, declining to answer questions about his last conversation with the president because of a request that he not discuss an ongoing inquiry.
Oversight Committee member Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) pressed Cohen on his final conversations with the Trump. The last time they spoke, Cohen said, occurred about two months after the FBI raided his home and office last April — but he could not disclose what was said, he continued.
“Unfortunately, this topic is actually something that is being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York, and I’ve been asked by them not to discuss, and not to talk about these issues,” Cohen said.
Krishnamoorthi followed up: “Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven’t yet discussed today?”
“Yes, and again, those are part of the investigation that is currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York,” Cohen responded.
The testimony is an ominous sign for Trump, signaling potential continued law enforcement interest in him or those around him.
The Southern District had investigated hush-money payments made to women alleging sexual relationships with Trump during the campaign, and Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations regarding these transactions. But Cohen has talked in detail about that case, so he is probably referring to something else. Federal prosecutors in New York did, though, recently issue a sweeping request for documents related to donations and spending by Trump’s inaugural committee.
12:50 p.m. Republicans hone in Cohen’s legal advice to the president
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) has honed in one of Trump’s best defenses to the allegation that he participated in an illegal campaign finance scheme: Wasn’t Trump just following the advice of his lawyer, Michael Cohen? Trump’s defenders have insisted that, despite Cohen’s plea deal, it would be very hard to bring criminal charges over the payments against Trump in part because he was being advised by a lawyer.
Massie asked Cohen if a lawyer has an ethical obligation to provide good legal advice. Cohen agreed that he does. “I believe so,” Cohen responded. He referenced Cohen’s written testimony, in which he said he paid the money to Daniels without considering whether it was the right thing to do. “Is that being a good lawyer? To not even consider whether it’s legal or not?”
Cohen maintained that he was looking to protect Trump and knew what Trump wanted because he had been dealing with threats from Daniels to go public that dated to 2011.
12:40 p.m.: Cohen provides a date for claim Stone told Trump he was in contact with Assange
In his written testimony, Cohen merely said that he heard Stone tell Trump he had been in contact with WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange in July 2016, shortly before the publication of stolen emails by WikiLeaks.
Pressed to provide an exact date in oral testimony, he told lawmakers that he believed the conversation occurred on either July 18 or 19, likely the second day. That would place it three days before WikiLeaks published internal Democratic Party emails on July 22.
Massie noted that Assange had claimed publicly in June that he had damaging material about Clinton. “I’m not saying you have fake news. I’m saying you have old news,” he said. (He did not address Cohen’s assertion that he heard Stone claim had been in personal contact with Assange.)
12:30 p.m.: ‘We are not the fact-checkers for BuzzFeed.’
Back from a break in the hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) opened his questions by zeroing in on a disputed BuzzFeed News article that alleges Cohen had told the special counsel that Trump directed him to lie to Congress. Jordan noted that Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, had said in the wake of that report he could not confirm or deny it — though the special counsel’s office would soon come out say it was wrong.
“Why didn’t he deny the BuzzFeed story?” Jordan asked of Davis.
“Because I didn’t think it was his responsibility to do that,” Cohen responded. “We are not the fact-checkers for BuzzFeed.”
In his opening statement, Cohen had said Trump did not tell him to lie to Congress, though he intuited that is what Trump wanted. Jordan, though, did not press into the substance of what discussions, if any, Cohen and Trump might have had about his testimony. Instead, he seemed to batter Davis for not knocking down the story, and noted that the special counsel had.
“The special counsel said — something they’ve never done — they said that story was false,” Jordan said, after he and Cohen repeatedly interrupted the other.
“My response, the president has told something over 9,000 lies to date, do I ask Mr. Davis or Mr. [Michael] Monico, do I go on television to correct his mistakes?” Cohen responded.
Monico is another of Cohen’s lawyers. After Cohen’s opening statement, BuzzFeed reiterated through a spokesman that it stands by its story.
12:25 p.m.: Cohen won’t rule out movie or book deal, or political office in New York
Under questioning from Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Cohen declined to rule out that he would one day pursue a book or movie deal, or run for political office in New York.
Foxx was trying to press Cohen on the idea that he was motivated to testify to remain in the public eye, which Cohen disputed. But under more specific questioning, Cohen declined to commit that he would not pursue public activities in the future.
“Can you commit under oath that you will not, that you have not, and will not pursue a book deal,” Foxx asked.
And I would not do that, no,” Cohen responded.
He also declined to commit that he would not pursue a political office in New York.
12:15 p.m.: Cohen: I’m responsible for your silliness
Cohen has said he was motivated to turn on Trump and change previous testimony to Congress because he was distressed by Trump’s reaction to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and his interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Helsinki. Most of all, Cohen said, he was moved by what he called “watching the daily destruction of our civility to each other.”
He noted the Republicans displaying a sign calling him a “liar, liar” and called it “unbecoming” of Congress — behavior he said has been influenced by Trump’s discourse. “
“I’m responsible for your silliness because I did the same things that you’re doing now,” he said. “I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years.”
He passionately argued that others who surround the president should learn from his example. “Look at what’s happened to me. I had a wonderful life . . . And I’ve lost it all,” he said.
As a pre-lunch final offering, he offered a vivid and devastating portrait of what it was like to work for the Trump Organization: “Everybody’s job at the Trump Organization is to protect Mr. Trump. Every day most of us knew we were coming and we were going to lie for him about something. That became the norm.”
12:10 p.m.: ‘Liar Liar Pants On Fire’
Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) jeered the traditional schoolyard chant of “liar, liar pants on fire” at Cohen Wednesday, in what was likely the simplest iteration of a refrain Oversight Committee Republicans have been repeating all day: that Cohen’s testimony cannot be trusted.
Oh, and he also had a “Liar Liar Pants on Fire” sign, with Cohen’s face on it, for effect.
“You’re a pathological liar. You don’t know truth from falsehood,” Gosar charged, suggesting that if Cohen had been worth anything as a lawyer, he should know he had a “duty of loyalty” and “duty of confidentiality” to his client — in this case, Trump.
“How can anybody listen to this pathological person?” Gosar asked.
In the moments that followed, Gosar and Cohen fell into a classic “yes it is” — “no it’s not” spat, debating whether Cohen was testifying negatively about Trump simply to make a deal with federal prosecutors and reduce his jail time.
“I’m not sure how my appearance today is providing substantial information that the Southern District can use for the creation of a case,” Cohen said.
“Liar, liar, pants on fire,” Gosar concluded. “No one should ever listen to you and give you credibility.”
12:09 p.m.: Trump Jr, Ivanka Trump were briefed on Trump Tower Moscow discussions, Cohen says
Cohen said Wednesday that while he pursued a possible Trump Tower project in Moscow as Trump was running for president, he briefed the president’s children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, on several occasions, as well as Trump himself.
In naming Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., Cohen was clearing up a mystery in court records filed as part of his plea — which noted he had briefed Trump family members about the project but did not identify them by name. Cohen said he briefed the Trump children about 10 times, as well as reporting back to Trump every time he had a discussion about the project.
“After each communication that I had, I would report back to him,” Cohen said.
Trump has claimed in the past he had no business involvement in Russia; Cohen’s testimony takes direct aim at that. Cohen himself has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the matter, and he said Wednesday he did so “in furtherance of my protection of Mr. Trump.”
“I am not protecting Mr. Trump anymore,” he said.
12:06 p.m.: Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis is working free
Republicans continue to press an allegation that Wednesday’s hearing has been orchestrated by former Clinton operative Lanny Davis, who is working as an attorney for Cohen. In response to questions from Rep. Jody Hice (R-Georgia), Cohen testified that he reached out to Davis to represent him, not the other way around. Cohen said that Davis is not currently being paid for his work.
12:04 p.m.: Cohen: No proof Trump is a racist
Cohen said he doesn’t have proof that Trump is a racist, telling Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) that while he has “maybe 100” secret recordings of Trump talking, none of them include comments he’s made about black individuals.
Meadows, a close ally to president Trump, pressed Cohen for evidence of his allegation that Trump was racist. Cohen in his opening statement said Trump “once asked me if I could name a country that was run by a black person that wasn’t a ‘s----hole,’” and he said Trump “told me black people would never vote for him because they were too ‘stupid.’”
Meadows pointed to his guest at the hearing, Trump associate Lynne Patton, to counter that assertion. Patton, who is black and who stood behind Meadows as he spoke, submitted a comment for the record saying Trump is not racist.
“You made some very demanding comments about the president that Ms. Patton doesn’t agree with,” Meadows said. “She says there is no way she would work with an individual who is racist.”
He added his own take, too: “I’ve talked to the president more than 300 times. I have not heard a racist comment from the president.”
Meadows also pressed Cohen about consulting contracts Cohen signed after Trump became president, when Cohen collected more than $4 million to advise major companies. Wasn’t Cohen selling access to Trump, Meadows asked?
Cohen insisted that he was paid to advise on the “enigma” of Donald Trump.
“Not something that’s unusual in Washington,” he said. He said that he was, for instance, paid $1.2 million by the drug company Novartis and agreed he spoke to company executives no more than six times.
But Cohen insisted he did not lobby for his massive fees, an important assertion for the former lawyer since he never registered to lobby on their behalf.
11:55 a.m.: Behind the scenes of the Trump response to the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape
In October 2016, Cohen said he received in a phone call from Trump adviser Hope Hicks while he was traveling in London, asking for his help. News was about to break that the president had been caught on video saying obscene things about what famous people could do to women. Hicks, Cohen testified, asked him if he could call reporters he knew.
“We want you to just spin this,” she said, according to Cohen.
Cohen offered the behind-the-scenes interactions of Trump advisers about the now infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in response to questions from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D. C.). He said the campaign was particularly worried about the tape because Trump around the same time was facing allegations that he engaged in extramarital affairs, which he was hoping to pay to keep quiet.
“I was concerned about it, but more importantly, Mr. Trump was concerned about it,” Cohen said.
Norton pressed aggressively on whether Trump’s concern was because of the election, and Cohen said it was. That is important because Cohen has pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in connections to the payments to the women, which might have been legal if they were merely to shield Trump from personal embarrassment. Cohen has alleged he arranged the payments at Trump’s direction.
11:50 a.m.: ‘Shame on you, Mr. Jordan’
Cohen joined the select ranks of witnesses who have erupted at Jordan, the committee’s ranking Republican, during their testimony, after Jordan accused him of disputing federal prosecutors’ determination that he is a liar.
“Shame on you, Mr. Jordan,” Cohen said, warning Jordan against casting aspersions on him. “I made mistakes, I own them, and I didn’t fight with the Southern District of New York … what I did do is I pled guilty and I am going to be going to prison.”
“I took responsibility … I take responsibility for my mistakes,” he said. “I am remorseful, I am going to prison.”
The retort came on the heels of an exchange with Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), who challenged his characterization of Trump.
“You called Trump a cheat. What would you call yourself?” Comer asked Cohen.
“A fool,” he answered.
11:48 a.m.: Cohen says National Enquirer ‘Catch and Kill’ for Trump began before 2007
In response to questions from Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), Cohen has explained how “catch and kill” worked, the practice by which David Pecker, the head of AMI, which publishes the National Enquirer, would agree to help Trump by buying negative stories about him and then never have the magazine write about them.
Cohen explained that he was involved with “several” such episodes. So far, only one has been made public. As part of Cohen’s plea, he agreed that he worked with Pecker to have AMI purchase the rights to model Karen McDougal’s story that she had an affair with Trump. The tabloid outlet never ran her story. Cohen did not outline other such episodes with which he was involved but noted that Pecker’s practice of buying and burying negative stories about Trump began even before Cohen was hired to work for the Trump Organization in 2007.
Maloney asked Cohen whether there were other women who had made claims similar to McDougal’s and Daniels’s. Cohen replied that he could not recall but noted, “it’s certainly the two that we know about.”
Cohen described an ongoing conversation about how Trump should repay him for the hush money he paid to Daniels. Could the business let Cohen throw a party at a Trump Organization facility? Did Cohen know someone who wanted free membership to a Trump golf club? Finally, he explained, with time running out before Daniels sold her story to an outlet that would publicize it, he said the decision was made to simply repay Cohen the money.
11:34 a.m.: Cohen: Trump is capable of colluding to win
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), who chaired the Democratic National Committee when it was hacked by the Russians during the 2016 election, pressed Cohen on whether Trump was capable of “colluding” with Russia to win the 2016 election.
Cohen said, “yes” — though he initially hesitated, noting that answering such a question would be pure speculation on his part.
“I’d rather not answer that question,” he initially said, but later agreed: “Trump’s desire to win would have him work with anyone.”
Cohen was unable to answer the Florida Democrat’s question about whether Trump knew about the DNC hacking before it happened. But he confirmed that Trump’s children likely also knew about the Trump Organization’s attempt to build a Trump tower in Moscow during the 2016 election.
“The company was involved … which meant the family was involved,” he said.
Wasserman Schultz continued: “Is it possible the whole family is conflicted or compromised with a foreign adversary in the months before the election?”
Cohen answered yes.
Wasserman Schultz, who resigned her DNC position following the hacking and release of internal emails, asked Cohen if he thought Trump was so desperate to win that he would collude and coordinate with Russia or a foreign power.
“It calls on so much speculation …” he trailed off. “Mr. Trump, he’s all about winning and will do what is necessary to win.”
He continued: “I wouldn’t use the word ‘colluding.’ Was there something odd about the back-and-forth praise with President [Vladimir] Putin? Yes. But I’m not really sure that I can answer that question in terms of collusion. I was not part of the campaign. I don’t know the other conversations Trump had with other individuals.”
11:30 a.m.: Cohen says he has been offered book and TV deals, and even a movie option
He’s been offered book deals, TV deals, even a movie option, Cohen said Wednesday — but he’s taken none of them, yet.
“I don’t expect I’m going to have a source of income when I’m in federal penitentiary,” Cohen told Rep. Mark E. Green (R-Tenn.), a first-term congressman who was tapped as the first rank-and-file GOP member of the panel to get to ask questions.
Green only addressed two questions to Cohen, about his expected sources of income and who had paid for him to come testify to Congress. Cohen said he paid his own way.
For the rest of the time, Green delivered a soliloquy about Cohen’s questionable credibility, scoffing at panel Democrats for picking a “star witness” who had committed basically every infraction he was accusing Trump of orchestrating.
As Green excoriated Cohen, “none other than a scorned man” who, he said, had lied about everything from his finances to the birth of his child, he never looked at him, delivering his comments to wall cameras at the back of the room. As Cohen listened, his blank look eventually gave way to an entertained smile.
11:28 a.m. Cohen alleges Trump inflated assets
Cohen provided to Congress three documents called “statements of financial condition,” which he said Trump had prepared to show potential lenders that he was worthy of a loan. Cohen said that these three statements — from 2011, 2012 and 2013 — were shown to Deutsche Bank, as Trump sought a loan to purchase the Buffalo Bills football team. Trump, in the end, did not buy the team.
These statements were not rigorously audited financial documents. Instead, they amounted to Trump’s own estimates about what he was worth and what he owed. Trump himself was the main source of the data.
But the 2013 statement showed something remarkable.
That year, Trump rapidly increased his own estimate of his net worth — from $4.6 billion to $8.6 billion.
The reason was not a new building or a big business success by Trump. Instead, Trump simply assigned a massive dollar value — $4 billion — to his own brand, and then counted that brand among his assets, as if it was a building or a golf course. The result was that his net worth nearly doubled.
In his statement, Cohen said that these statements were part of a pattern of Trump exaggerating his net worth, when it benefited him.
“It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes,” Cohen said.
11:20 a.m.: ‘You didn’t get brought to the dance’
Jordan, the panel’s ranking Republican, made clear in his first exchange with Cohen what Republicans line of attack will be at the hearing: Cohen is a disgruntled employee, upset that he couldn’t get a job in the Trump White House.
Jordan opened his questioning of Cohen by walking the president’s former personal lawyer through a litany of wrongdoing — including tax and bank fraud — to which he has pleaded guilty, but has nothing to do with Trump. He highlighted a Twitter account that he said Cohen had created, “Women For Cohen,” that seemed to promote Cohen’s personal brand.
“Was that done to protect the president?” Jordan sneered.
Cohen asserted a woman at an outside firm, RedFinch, had created the account to help blow off steam during the heart of the high-stakes presidential campaign.
“We were having fun,” Cohen said.
Jordan then turned to his main line of attack.
“You worked for [Trump] for 10 years, Mr. Cohen. How long did you work in the White House?” Jordan asked.
“I never worked in the White House,” Cohen responded.
“That’s the point, Mr. Cohen, isn’t it?” Jordan asked. “You wanted to work in the White House. You didn’t get brought to the dance.”
Cohen insisted he was offered White House jobs, and said he could tell a story of Trump “reaming out” chief of staff Reince Priebus because Trump wanted him to work in the White House Counsel’s Office.
“Mr. Jordan, all I wanted was what I got, to be personal attorney to the president,” Cohen said.
11:18 a.m.: Cohen says Trump approved hush money payments as president, but as a fake retainer
Cohen said “there is no doubt” in his mind that Trump was acutely aware that Daniels, the adult-film actress, was being paid to keep silent about an alleged affair she had with the president, payments orchestrated through Cohen.
He brought check images with him to show how and when Trump incrementally reimbursed him for the $130,000 payment to Daniels — showing that Trump was intimately involved with the scheme, even while president.
One check for $35,000, dated March 17, 2017, was issued from a trust account belonging to Trump, and signed by his son, Trump, Jr. Another check, dated Aug. 1, 2017, was from Trump’s personal account — and signed by the president himself. Cohen conceded that Trump Jr. might have had only “cursory information,” about what was afoot, though Trump and the COO of the Trump organization were intimately involved.
Cohen said the payments were made directly because they were “declaratively a retainer for services that would be provided for the year of 2017.”
But “there is no retainer agreement,” he noted.
11:06 a.m.: Cohen is officially no longer a lawyer
Cohen officially lost his law license on Tuesday, he told the Oversight Committee — just over two months before he is due to report to prison for having lied to Congress.
Cohen brought up the fact that he will not be allowed to practice law, when asked by Chairman Cummings if he understood how serious his admission was that he lied to Congress — especially as a lawyer.
Cohen said yes — even though he is no longer a lawyer.
Cohen’s credibility is at issue during the hearing, as Republicans have sought to cast him as a thorough liar whose testimony cannot be trusted. Cohen has apologized — again on Wednesday — for lying to Congress, stating his latest testimony is an effort to correct the record and set things right.
10:55 a.m.: Lots of spectators, but no protesters
Cohen is the biggest name and closest affiliate of Trump’s to appear before Congress since lawmakers started investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the crowds around Capitol Hill on Wednesday reflected the sensational nature of the hearing.
Hundreds upon hundreds of would-be spectators lined the snaking halls of the Rayburn House Office Building — and were disappointed to be turned away as the committee gaveled in the start of the session. Among them were throngs of several dozen television camera crews.
Even in the room, where things were supposed to be organized, dozens of photographers filled the space between Cohen and the lawmakers — whose staffers also jammed themselves into every extra space along the side walls to watch the proceedings.
One thing noticeably missing? Protesters. The familiar sight outside high-profile congressional hearings and the court proceedings of Trump’s affiliates was noticeably absent Wednesday. Outside a side entrance to the building, only one brightly dressed character held a sign for the line of spectators to view — and all it said was, “This is a sign.” And inside the room, no one interrupted the proceedings — well, no one in the audience at least.
10:52 a.m.: The president’s son responds
Trump Jr. has offered his first response to Cohen’s testimony on Twitter. He has not addressed any of Cohen’s direct accusations, including Cohen’s claim that he signed one of the checks to Cohen reimbursing him for his payments to Daniels. Instead, Trump Jr. brought the snark, tweeting, “This sounds like a breakup letter . . . and I’m keeping your sweatshirt.”
This sounds like a breakup letter... and I’m keeping your sweatshirt.— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 27, 2019
10:50 a.m.: Did Trump Jr. tell his father about the famous Trump Tower meeting?
Trump and his son, Trump Jr., have repeatedly said that the latter never told his father that he accepted a meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016, after he was informed that she would bring dirt about Clinton.
Cohen’s testimony provides tantalizing hints of the possibility both have been lying — but nothing exactly definitive.
Cohen recounted a conversation he alleges he observed “probably in early June 2016.” He said that he was in Trump’s office when Trump Jr. came in and walked behind his father’s desk. Cohen said this was notable because people rarely walked behind Trump’s desk. He testified that he heard Trump Jr. lean down and whisper to his father, “The meeting is all set.” He alleged that Trump responded, “Okay good … let me know.”
Cohen testified that when news of the meeting broke in 2017, he remembered the incident and decided it was likely a reference to the Trump Tower meeting. Bitingly, he added that he believed this was likely the case because “Mr. Trump had frequently told me and others that his son Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world. And also, that Don Jr. would never set up any meeting of any significance alone and certainly not without checking with his father.”
Cohen’s testimony finally provides a direct account from Trump’s former lawyer of what he claims he knows — and doesn’t know — about Trump’s knowledge of the meeting. This became a major issue this summer, when CNN reported that Cohen had told investigators that he had evidence Trump Jr. informed his father of the meeting.
Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, was later identified as the source of that information. But Davis was forced to later revise his claims and said he’d gotten things wrong about what Cohen knew. “It’s a major mistake for which I am 100 percent sorry. Period. I never should have done it unless I was certain and could prove it,” he told NBC News.
10:45 a.m.: Trump exaggerated his financial position, according to Cohen documents and testimony
From 2011 to 2013, Trump exaggerated his financial position and the value of the properties he owned to obtain financing from lenders including Deutsche Bank, according to testimony and documents submitted to Congress by Cohen.
The “statements of financial condition” for Trump that Cohen submitted to Congress depict Trump as having between $170 million and $346 million in cash and marketable securities on hand. Trump attempted to use the documents to try to obtain a Deutsche loan to purchase the Buffalo Bills, Cohen said in his testimony, and to improve his ranking among lists of wealthy Americans.
“It was my experience that Mr. 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 said.
10:40 a.m.: Cohen releases threatening letter to Fordham University
Among the documents Cohen has provided to the committee is a letter to the president of Fordham University in New York, where Trump studied for two years before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania. In the letter, dated May 5, 2015 — about a month before Trump declared his candidacy for president — Cohen noted that media outlets had been asking for the release of Trump’s college records. Cohen wrote to the university president that federal law requires the permission of a former student before the release of college records — and made clear that Trump’s permission would not be forthcoming.
Releasing the records, Cohen wrote, would open the school “to both criminal and civil liability and damages including, among other things, substantial fines, penalties and even the potential loss of government aid and other funding.”
“The criminality will lead to jail time,” Cohen went on to threaten, adding, “We will hold your institution liable to the fullest extent of the law including damages and criminality.”
He concluded by asking that the university contact him to confirm that Trump’s records had been “permanently sealed.”
In his opening remarks, Cohen told the committee that he was instructed to write the letter to Fordham and Trump’s other educational institutions by Trump. And he will note the irony: Trump was secretly instructing Cohen to bully and threaten people to ensure Trump’s records, after engaging in a years-long campaign to press President Barack Obama to release documents about his background, including college transcripts.
10:30 a.m.: Cohen has begun reading from his prepared statement
Cohen has begun reading from his prepared statement. You can read it in full here.
10:25 a.m.: Initial Republican salvo: Lanny Davis’s orchestrated dishonesty
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the ranking Republican on the Oversight Committee, has opened with a fiery start. He called Cohen a “fraudster, a liar and, in two months, a federal inmate” and suggested history will look unkindly on Democrats’ decision to hold their first oversight public hearing after taking over control of Congress in January with Cohen.
Jordan asserted that the hearing may be the first time in history that a person convicted of lying to Congress, as Cohen was in November, has appeared before Congress again so quickly to once again offer testimony.
And he alleged that the hearing — its timing, its topics, its audience — had all been orchestrated by Lanny Davis, a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton and now a lawyer for Cohen. Jordan told Cohen that he was acting as Democrats’ “patsy” at the hearing.
“They’ve got to find somebody somewhere to say some thing to remove the president from office,” he said, before adding wryly, “Actually, they didn’t find him. Lanny Davis did.”
Davis is seated directly behind Cohen, just over his right shoulder.
10:23 a.m.: Cummings warns Cohen: Lie and I will refer you to DOJ
In fiery opening remarks, Chairman Cummings warned Cohen not to lie to committee members, or Cummings would refer him to federal law enforcement.
“I have made it abundantly clear to Mr. Cohen that if he comes here today and he does not tell us the truth, I will be the first one to refer those untruthful statements to DOJ,” Cummings said, using an abbreviation for the Justice Department.
He added later: “He does have a lot to lose if he lies.”
The warning is notable because Cohen already has been convicted of lying to Congress, and even Democrats concede there are questions about his credibility. But Cohen came to the hearing Wednesday armed with evidence to support some of his testimony, and Cummings said the testimony he will present is “deeply disturbing and it should be troubling to all Americans.”
“We will all have to make our own evaluation of the evidence, and Mr. Cohen’s own credibility,” Cummings said.
10:08 a.m.: Stone denies Cohen allegation that he talked with Trump about WikiLeaks July release
Roger Stone, responding to Cohen’s allegation that he talked with Trump in July 2016 about WikiLeaks releasing hacked Democratic emails, said in a text Wednesday: “Mr. Cohen’s statement is not true.”
The denial could make the situation one of a he said-he said, as a person familiar with Cohen’s testimony said Cohen does not have evidence, such as contemporaneous memorandums, to record the conversation he alleges to have heard between Stone and Trump.
In November, Stone told The Washington Post that he had never spoken about WikiLeaks with Trump.
“It just didn’t come up,” Stone told The Post. “I am able to say we never discussed WikiLeaks. I’m not sure what I would have said to him anyway because it’s all speculation . . . I just didn’t know if it’s true or not.”
10:03 a.m.: The hearing is underway
Cummings, the chair of the Oversight Committee, opened the hearing shortly after 10 a.m. Rep. Mark Meadows (R- N.C.) quickly asked for the hearing to be put off, because members had not been given the evidence Cohen presents in a timely fashion.
9:52 a.m.: Despite written Cohen testimony, BuzzFeed stands by its story
As noted in an earlier item, Cohen addressed in his written testimony an allegation by BuzzFeed News that he told the special counsel’s office that Trump had directed him to lie to Congress about a possible Trump Tower project in Moscow. Cohen seemed to dispute the reporting, saying in his written testimony, “Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates.”
But he also suggested he intuited what Trump wanted him to do, based on conversations they had during the campaign about the Trump Tower project.
“To be clear: Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. 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,” Cohen said in the prepared testimony. “And so I lied about it, too — 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.”
In a statement Wednesday, BuzzFeed continued to stand by its story.
“Michael Cohen’s public testimony reaffirms what he claimed in private to investigators, as we reported last month: President Trump directed him to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow in the heat of the 2016 campaign,” spokesman Matt Mittenthal said.
This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Matt Mittenthal’s name.
9:18 a.m.: Evidence of yet another portrait Trump bought of himself
According to written testimony distributed in advance, Cohen will allege that Trump asked him to arrange for purchase of a large portrait of Trump himself for $60,000 — and that Trump then repaid the bidder with money from Trump’s own charitable foundation. Trump kept the art for himself.
The Washington Post has previously reported about two portraits of himself that Trump bought with money from his charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation. This appears to be a third.
Cohen’s description matches news reports about a 2013 art auction in New York’s Hamptons, in which a Trump friend named Stewart Rahr bought a nine-foot-tall portrait of Trump from artist William Quigley. The Hamptons news site Dan’s Papers quoted Quigley then as saying the payment was $67,000, and that he picked the check up from Trump himself.
If Cohen’s account is true, the payment to Rahr was not mentioned in the Trump Foundation’s IRS filings for 2013. Those filings show only a $60,000 payment from the Trump Foundation, but that was listed as going to the American Cancer Society.
Rahr, Quigley and the American Cancer Society all declined to comment while The Post was reporting on Trump’s charitable giving in 2016.
The New York attorney general last year sued Trump and his foundation, alleging the charity engaged in “persistently illegal conduct.” Among the allegations: Trump used charity funds to pay for two other portraits of himself. Tax law prohibits charity leaders from using nonprofit assets to buy things for themselves. In December 2018, Trump agreed that charity would be shut down.
8 a.m.: Cohen alleges Trump knew in advance of WikiLeaks email dump
Potentially the most explosive allegation that Cohen is expected to make is that Trump knew in advance of WikiLeaks’s July 2016 release of DNC emails. According to Cohen’s written testimony, he will say “he had just gotten off the phone with [WikiLeaks founder] 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.” It was in those days that WikiLeaks released a batch of DNC emails. Trump has previously denied talking about WikiLeaks with Roger Stone.
“Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect of ‘wouldn’t that be great,’” Cohen will say, according to his written remarks.
Mueller has investigated extensively Stone’s dealings, or attempted dealings, with WikiLeaks, and at Cohen’s sentencing hearing, Jeannie Rhee, part of Mueller’s prosecution team, told the judge that Cohen had provided “credible and reliable information about core Russia-related issues under investigation.” The revelation Wednesday may offer a glimpse into what he might have shared with the special counsel.
While Mueller’s prosecutors have charged Stone with lying to Congress about his efforts to reach WikiLeaks, they have not alleged he criminally conspired with the group or with Russia to influence the outcome of the election.
In June 2016, Julian Assange had talked publicly about having acquired damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
WikiLeaks and Assange have said they never communicated with Stone, though during the campaign, Stone privately told associates that he was in contact with Assange, and that WikiLeaks had material that would be damaging to Clinton. In August 2016, he also boasted publicly of having communicated with Assange and — perhaps most notably — tweeted on Aug. 21: “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel.” Six weeks later, WikiLeaks began posting another set of stolen emails from the account of Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.
A person familiar with Cohen’s testimony said Cohen does not have evidence, such as contemporaneous memos, to support the assertion he will make about the phone call between Stone and Trump.
In response to the testimony, WikiLeaks tweeted that the group “had already publicly announced its pending publications and has always denied speaking to Roger Stone.”
7:45 a.m. A check signed by Trump, and another signed by his son
People familiar with Cohen’s testimony had in recent days touted that he would release evidence connecting Trump to possible criminal conduct while in office. His written testimony makes clear what that evidence is.
Cohen will provide a copy of a $35,000 check that he says was personally signed by Trump on Aug. 1, 2017, to reimburse him for paying off Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress who had alleged having an affair with Trump. Cohen has admitted that — at Trump’s direction — he paid the woman $130,000 in the waning days of the campaign so she would keep quiet about the affair, a payment that violated campaign finance laws.
According to his written testimony, Cohen will effectively use the check to allege that the criminal wrongdoing in which he has implicated the president continued even after Trump took office.
“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 coverup, 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,” Cohen will say, according to his written remarks.
Cohen will also display a second $35,000 check, dated March 17, 2017, this one signed by Donald Trump Jr. and Trump organization chief operating officer Allen Weisselberg, a person familiar with his testimony said. The check offers the first evidence that the president’s son may also have been involved with the reimbursement scheme.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, has previously acknowledged Trump reimbursed Cohen for the payments, though he has disputed the president violated campaign finance laws. He has also said, though, that he did not know when the president learned the nature of the payment to Daniels and that he only learned the full details after law enforcement raided Cohen’s home in April.
While it already had been clear that Cohen was implicating Trump in the campaign finance violations to which he pleaded guilty, his assertion that Trump was involved in a “coverup” while president — backed by a check with Trump’s writing on it — will be notable. Cohen will also allege that in February 2017, one month into his presidency, Trump assured him in the Oval Office that the reimbursement checks were on their way.
7:30 a.m.: ‘He is a racist, he is a con man, he is a cheat’
One of the notable aspects of Cohen’s testimony is the extent to which he will air what he says are the president’s personal and moral failings. According to his written remarks, he will call the president a “racist,” a “con man” and a “cheat,” and describe personal anecdotes to back up his assertions.
“While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way,” Cohen will say, according to his written testimony. “And, he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
Cohen already had detailed those anecdotes in an interview with Vanity Fair in November, though his describing them again in a public setting could be politically damaging for the president. He will also allege other, petty actions he says the president took, including directing him “to threaten his high school, his colleges, and the College Board to never release his grades or SAT scores.”
7:15 a.m.: On the eve of the hearing, a personal attack
In a sign of just how nasty the hearing will become, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) tweeted a lurid attack on Cohen on Tuesday alleging — without providing evidence — that he had affairs.
“Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot...” Gaetz tweeted.
Trump and his defenders have relentlessly attacked Cohen ever since he agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with law enforcement, with the president even suggesting that Cohen’s own father-in-law should be investigated. But even in that context, Gaetz’s tweet was remarkably personal, foreshadowing what is likely be several days of blistering attacks on Cohen’s credibility. Before the night was out, he would apologize in a second tweet.
“While it is important 2 create context around the testimony of liars like Michael Cohen, it was NOT my intent to threaten, as some believe I did. I’m deleting the tweet & I should have chosen words that better showed my intent. I’m sorry,” he wrote.
Lanny J. Davis, an attorney for Cohen, said of Gaetz’s comment: “We will not respond to Mr. Gaetz’s despicable lies and personal smears, except to say we trust that his colleagues in the House, both Republicans and Democrats, will repudiate his words and his conduct. I also trust that his constituents will not appreciate that their congressman has set a new low — which in today’s political culture is hard to imagine as possible.”
Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders had said in a statement, “Disgraced felon Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying to Congress and making other false statements. Sadly, he will go before Congress this week and we can expect more of the same. It’s laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies.”
7 a.m.: What will Cohen say about the contentious BuzzFeed story?
Last month, BuzzFeed News leveled the explosive allegation that Cohen had claimed the president directed him to lie to Congress about a possible Trump Tower project in Moscow, and that he had told the special counsel as much. The special counsel’s office soon disputed that report. But Cohen had never addressed it publicly — until now.
According to his written testimony, Cohen will tell lawmakers, “Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates.” That would seem to refute BuzzFeed’s report, which alleged “the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — to obscure Trump’s involvement.”
The testimony is not totally surprising. If Cohen said BuzzFeed was right, that would raise significant questions about the credibility of the special counsel’s office, which issued a rare public statement taking aim at the news outlet’s reporting.
Cohen will offer, according to his written testimony, that he felt Trump was sending him an implicit message he should lie — though he seemed to intuit that message from interactions he had with Trump many months before he testified, while Trump was still a candidate and the Trump Tower Moscow project was still being pursued.
“To be clear: Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. 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 — 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.”
That should be little solace to BuzzFeed, as it was all mostly public at the time it published its story. In court documents, Cohen’s lawyers had said previously his lies “sprung regrettably from Michael’s effort, as a loyal ally and then-champion” of Trump. They also noted when he prepared his testimony, he was “in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel” to Trump.
6:45 a.m.: Cohen will present Trump financial records
Cohen is expected to present to lawmakers some Trump financial records — including three years of financial statements, from 2011-2013, which he gave to Deutsche Bank, according to his written testimony. He will allege 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.”
That testimony could be particularly grating for the president, who has bristled in particular at the notion that his and his family’s finances might be subjected to congressional or law enforcement scrutiny.
David A. Fahrenthold, Jonathan O’Connell and Manuel Roig-Franzia also contributed to this report.