Cohen Rips Trump Up and Down in Testimony to Congress

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, finishes a day of testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) – After spending much of the day telling lawmakers that President Donald Trump knew about attempts to hack Democratic Party emails and hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign, his prison-bound former personal attorney Michael Cohen closed out testimony before a House committee Wednesday by saying his loyalty to the president cost him everything.

“My family’s happiness, my friendships, my law license, my honor, my reputation and my freedom,” Cohen said of the things he’s lost. “I will not sit back and say nothing and let him do the same to the country. I fear if he loses the election in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power and this is why I agreed to appear before you today.”

He then asked for an opportunity to address the president directly.

“We honor our veterans even in the rain. You tell the truth even when it doesn’t aggrandize you. You respect the law and enforcement officers, not villainize them,” Cohen said. “You don’t disrespect gold-star families, prisoners of war or other heroes who had the courage to fight for this country. You don’t attack the media or those who say things you don’t like.”

He continued, “You don’t separate families or demonize those who are looking for a better life…. You don’t shut down the government before Christmas and New Year’s just to appease your base.”

Calling the president’s behavior “churlish,” Cohen pleaded to Trump: “It’s simply un-American and it’s not you.”

The day-long hearing before the House Oversight Committee began with fireworks as Cohen openly discussed the hot-button topic that has long dogged the Trump administration: WikiLeaks.

Cohen described how in July 2016, during a visit with Trump, he witnessed a phone call between the would-be president and Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime adviser.

“Mr. Trump knew from Roger Stone in advance of the WikiLeaks drop of emails … Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone,” Cohen said. “Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”

The response from the president, Cohen alleges, was enthusiastic.

“Wouldn’t that be great?” Trump allegedly quipped to Cohen.

Stone explicitly told Trump that Assange had a “massive dump of emails that would hurt the Clinton campaign,” Cohen told Representative Peter Welch, D-Vt.

 “I don’t know whether he knew or not and I don’t believe he did, what the sum and substance of the dump was going to be, only that there was going to be a dump of emails,” Cohen said.

The conversation Cohen described to lawmakers occurred at an integral moment during the 2016 campaign. It happened just before WikiLeaks dumped the emails and before Trump invited Russia to hack Clinton’s emails during a press conference.

Though the president’s onetime attorney has no direct proof that Trump colluded with the Kremlin, he made clear in his testimony that he was suspicious.

It was not until the summer of 2017 when Cohen said something “clicked in my mind.”

“I remember being in the room with Mr. Trump, probably in early June 2016, when something peculiar happened,” he testified.

Cohen says he had been sitting down with the would-be president when Donald Trump Jr. strolled behind his father’s desk, leaned over and in hushed tones told his father, “The meeting is all set,” an apparent reference to the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 with representatives from Russia.

“OK, good,” Trump allegedly replied. “Let me know.”

Cohen’s testimony also suggested that Trump specifically told him to hide information about plans to launch a real estate venture in Russia.

“Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates,” Cohen said. “In conversations we had during the campaign, at the time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way he was telling me to lie.”

Michael Cohen, left, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Representative Justin Amash, R-Mich., asked Cohen to elaborate on what he meant about the president’s ability to give orders indirectly.

Cohen explained, “Trump will say something like ‘that’s the nicest looking tie I’ve ever seen.’ What are you going to do? Fight with him? No. You’re going to say, ‘yeah, that’s the nicest looking tie I’ve ever seen.’ He doesn’t give orders. He speaks in a code.”

He claimed the president’s lawyers both “reviewed and edited” his prepared statements to Congress about the Trump Tower deal in Moscow.

“To be clear: Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it,” Cohen said.

He lied because he “never expected to win the election,” and knew the deal would generate “hundreds of millions of dollars,” Cohen said.

Cohen also said he briefed members of the Trump family, including Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, roughly 10 times about the project in Moscow, which undercuts Trump Jr.’s statement to lawmakers in September 2017 that he knew “very little” about the deal.  

Cohen pleaded guilty in August to lying to Congress about the details of Trump’s real estate dealings in Russia. Cohen has admitted that the deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow continued well into the 2016 presidential campaign, despite telling Congress that it had ended earlier.

Earlier, the president’s former “fixer” pleaded guilty to a variety of tax-fraud charges and he admitted to arranging hush-money payments just ahead of the 2016 election to two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump, adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal.

On Wednesday, he provided the committee with a copy of a bank statement showing a $131,000 wire transfer from Cohen’s own home equity line which he claims was used to pay hush money to Daniels.

Cohen testified that Trump instructed him as late as February 2018 to lie about the hush-money payments, including to First Lady Melania Trump.

Other records provided by Cohen included a series of documents allegedly showing inconsistencies in the president’s finances. When Trump first inquired about a loan to buy the Buffalo Bills NFL team, he claimed to have a net worth of $4.5 billion in 2011, according to the documents, but that number ballooned to $8.6 billion just two years later.

 “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.

He further claimed Trump ordered him to write threatening letters to the president’s high school, college and college board to keep his grades and SAT scores private.

Cohen’s testimony also suggested Trump may have lied under oath when he denied knowing Felix Sater, a real estate developer, former FBI informant and Russian-born, mafia-linked businessman.   

Trump denied knowing Sater during a sworn deposition in 2013, saying if Sater were “sitting in a room with him” he wouldn’t know what he looked like.

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, becomes emotional as he finishes a day of testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

But that seems unlikely, Cohen said in response to questioning from Democratic lawmaker Harley Rouda of California. He testified that Sater had an office in Trump Tower on the 26th floor, right next to Trump’s office, and didn’t pay rent for the space.

During an exchange with Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., Cohen told lawmakers he was hesitant about using the word “collusion” when discussing Trump and his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, given the limited amount of insight he had into the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower.

“Does Trump have the potential to collude with a foreign power to win the presidency at all costs?” Wasserman Schultz asked.

“Yes, but I should be clear…was there something odd about the back and forth praise with Putin? Yes. But I’m not really sure I can answer that question in terms of collusion,” Cohen replied. “I wasn’t part of the campaign, I don’t know of the other conversations he had with other individuals.”

Representative Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., asked Cohen what made him finally decide to break loyalty with Trump.

Trump’s behavior after the Helsinki summit with Putin and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and “the daily destruction of our civility to one another” by the president on Twitter forced his hand, Cohen said.

Cohen emphatically pleaded with lawmakers to trust his assessment of Trump.

“You don’t know him. I do. I sat next to him for 10 years. I watched his back. I’m the one who started his campaign,” he said.

Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., asked Cohen if he believed the president abused any drugs.

“I’m unaware of that,” Cohen said.

He offered the same refrain after Krishnamoorthi asked whether Trump “arranged any health care procedures for women outside of his family,” a veiled reference to abortion.

Wednesday’s hearing also touched on race. During tense questioning from Representative Mark Meadows, R-NC, the lawmaker brought forward Lynne Patton, a black woman tapped by Trump to lead the New York and New Jersey region for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Patton told Meadows there was “no way she would work for an individual who was racist.”

“Neither should I, as a son of a Holocaust survivor,” Cohen said of his tenure working for Trump.

In a heated exchange with Meadows, Cohen also asked the committee to consider “how many executives or high ranking employees within the Trump Organization are black.”

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ended the hearing with his own emotional testimony after Cohen’s closing remarks.

Cummings lives in inner city Baltimore and slammed Trump’s labeling of Cohen as a “rat.”

“It’s one of the worst things you can call a person because when they go to prison, they’re deemed a snitch,” Cummings said, throwing one hand up out of frustration.

A copy of a check from Donald Trump to Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer, is displayed as Cohen testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee about his behind-the-scenes knowledge of Trump’s activities, including possible criminal conduct, on Feb. 27, 2019. Cohen, a key witness in the probe by special counsel Robert Mueller, called the president a “racist,” a “conman” and a “cheat.” (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The chairman’s voice then boomed across the chamber: “We’re better than that!”

He also decried the effect the situation has on innocent people like Cohen’s children.

After Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison in December, Cummings said he recalled seeing a photo of Cohen’s young daughter wearing braces.

“Man, that hurt my heart,” Cummings said. “But this is part of your destiny and hopefully this portion of your destiny will lead to a better Michael Cohen, a better Donald Trump, a better United States of America and a better world. I mean that from the depths of my heart.”

Cummings continued, “When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be – in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?”

Ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, Cohen met with lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee for a closed-door session. He is also slated Thursday to speak with members of the House Intelligence Committee. Like Tuesday’s testimony, Thursday’s will also be behind closed doors.

Early Wednesday morning, the president weighed in on Cohen’s forthcoming public testimony.

“Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately.) He had other clients also,” Trump tweeted. “He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time. Using Crooked’s lawyer.”

After the hearing, the president’s attorney Jay Sekulow told the New York Times, “Today’s testimony by Michael Cohen that attorneys for the president edited or changed his statement to Congress to alter the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations is completely false.”

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office declined to comment on Cohen’s remarks Wednesday.

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