Prison-Bound Michael Cohen to Testify in Congress

WASHINGTON (CN) – Before President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen begins serving his prison sentence in May, he will appear before a House committee Wednesday to testify publicly about the president’s business plans in Russia and potential campaign finance violations.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Sentenced to three years in prison, Cohen plead guilty last August to a number of tax fraud charges, for lying to Congress about a potential Trump tower project in Moscow, and for arranging hush money payments ahead of the 2016 election for two women who allegedly had affairs with Trump.

Cohen’s appearance before lawmakers has been held up several times – first because of shoulder surgery and later, according to Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis, due to “ongoing threats against his family from President Trump” and the president’s current attorney Rudy Giuliani.

But finally on Wednesday, the president’s onetime “fixer” will testify in an open setting where he is widely expected to tell the House Oversight Committee about how, exactly, Trump directed the hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal.

The payments were a violation of campaign finance law and while Trump has steadfastly denied directing Cohen to buy Daniels’ and McDougal’s silence, Cohen has insisted that the president knew the maneuver was illegal. Cohen’s testimony Wednesday may reveal how he came to that conclusion.

The committee is also expected to ask Cohen questions about Trump’s plans to build skyscrapers in Russia. Cohen swore to both the Senate and House intelligence committees in 2017 that a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow was abandoned by January 2016.

But last November, Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court for lying to Congress about that testimony and now claims the plan to build the towers continued well into June of that year.

Citing sources familiar with Cohen’s preparation for Wednesday’s public hearing, the New York Times reported Tuesday that Cohen will likely present a slew of documents and other financial records that support his bombshell claims.

As a longtime Trump associate, Cohen also has insight into the president’s private behavior and is said to be ready to answer questions about Trump’s conduct behind closed doors. In an interview with Vanity Fair last year, Cohen claimed Trump had a penchant for making racist remarks, even  at one point allegedly saying black people were “too stupid” to vote for him.

Cohen could also discuss the president’s business dealings, namely his ownership of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and the president’s former oversight of the now-shuttered Trump Foundation.

Legislators are also expected to ask Cohen about the president’s tactics on social media.

Trump has tweeted about Cohen roughly a dozen times since 2015 and the president’s characterization of his former attorney has changed drastically since the special counsel’s investigation has continued to rack up guilty pleas from members of Trump’s inner circle.

Last April, Trump was complimentary of Cohen on Twitter. He blamed the media for its efforts to “destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will flip.”

“Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked and respected. Most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!” Trump tweeted.

But exactly five months later, and just 24 hours after another Trump associate, former campaign manager Paul Manafort, was found guilty of eight counts of bank and tax fraud in a federal court in Virginia, the president blasted Cohen.

“If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” Trump tweeted on Aug. 22. 

The president continued: “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family… unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories to get a ‘deal.’ Such respect for a brave man!”

By early December, the president’s frustration with Cohen was on full display. He tweeted about Cohen three times that month, lamenting his former attorney’s request for a light prison sentence and claiming Cohen “makes up stories” to get a “GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself.”

By mid-December, the president denied his involvement in the hush money scheme outright, tweeting that he “never directed Michael Cohen to break the law.”

“He was a lawyer ad he is supposed to know the law. It is called ‘advice of counsel’ and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid…” Trump tweeted on Dec. 13.

Within days, the president declared Cohen to be a “rat” on Twitter.

Wednesday’s public testimony follows Cohen’s closed-door session with the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday morning. He will go back behind closed doors yet again Thursday when meets with members of the House Intelligence Committee.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders slammed Cohen in a statement released ahead of his testimony.

“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,” Sanders said.

Cohen was officially disbarred ahead of his testimony to Congress.

The ruling in the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division is a result of his lying under oath and other convictions. The decision only applies to practice in New York State where Cohen was first admitted in 1992.

According to court documents, the Attorney Grievance Committee filed a motion to strike Cohen’s name from the roll of active attorneys last August when he first entered his guilty pleas on a variety of tax evasion and campaign violation charges he faced. The committee made the request again in December when he was convicted of making false statements to Congress.

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