Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, is telling his side of the story about working with the president when he testifies before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Wednesday.
It’s a moment of high drama on Capitol Hill. Sources close to Cohen told news outlets on Tuesday that Cohen’s testimony paints an unflattering picture of Trump, detailing allegedly racist language and potential criminal conduct while the president is 8,000 miles away in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Cohen released his opening statement hours before he read it for Congress, saying he felt “ashamed” of working for Trump and accused the president of having prior knowledge of the Democratic National Committee hack.
“He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat,” Cohen said of the president.
The relationship between the two men deteriorated last year following an FBI raid on Cohen’s New York City home and offices based on a referral from the special counsel’s office. Trump vehemently defended Cohen at the time, accusing his own Justice Department of carrying on a “witch hunt” against his allies. Within weeks, however, the president changed his tune. Trump’s new attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, went on TV repeatedly to attack Cohen’s credibility.
Cohen spent around 70 hours with federal investigators, in part discussing any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He pleaded guilty to numerous criminal charges, including a violation of campaign finance law for a $130,000 payment made to the pornographic film actress who says she once had an affair with Trump.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison in December.
Separately, Cohen also pleaded guilty in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation for lying to Congress about his involvement in a Trump Tower project in Moscow that he brokered during Trump’s campaign.
Before he steps behind bars in May, though, congressional lawmakers are attempting to prod him for more information. The attorney appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee for a closed-doors hearing on Tuesday, and he will speak privately to the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
At Wednesday’s public hearing in front of the House committee led by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Cohen’s replies will be limited on order of the special counsel’s office.
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Cohen acknowledged he was disbarred in New York on Tuesday. Lawyers face automatic disbarment for a felony conviction under New York law.
“As of yesterday, I am no longer a lawyer,” he told Cummings. “I have lost my law license amongst other things.”
Cohen claimed Trump tweeted “encouragement to someone to do harm to me and my family.” Trump has a history of inciting violence among his followers.
Cohen provided images of two checks from Trump-linked bank accounts that totaled $70,000 — money he says was part of a repayment plan for the hush money Cohen gave Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about the alleged affair between her and Trump.
One of the two checks, both dated after Trump’s inauguration, was apparently signed by the president himself. Other reimbursement checks — there were 11 in total — were signed by Donald Trump Jr. and Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, Cohen said.
Cohen said Trump once used a straw buyer to get a portrait of himself and then boasted about how much it had sold for.
An example Cohen gave of Trump being a “conman” related to his academic history.
“When I say conman, I’m talking about a man who declares himself brilliant but directed me to threaten his high school, his colleges, and the College Board to never release his grades or SAT scores,” he said.
Cohen alleged that the president is an “even worse” racist in private and that he once asked Cohen ― while Barack Obama was president of the United States ― if he could name a country “run by a black person that wasn’t a ‘shithole.’”
“While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way. And, he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid,” Cohen said.
Trump has a long history of making racist comments.
“Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great,” Cohen said. He said Trump described his presidential campaign as the “greatest infomercial in history.”
Cohen described his former boss as a complicated man capable of kindness and generosity, but who is not often kind and generous. Trump “has become the worst version of himself” since taking office, Cohen said.
Cohen gives his opening statement as Trump confidant Roger Stone — whose talks with Julian Assange about the DNC emails is a part of Cohen’s revelations — is still very much embroiled in the Russia investigation.
Cohen said Trump lied about the Moscow real estate project because he “never expected to win” the presidential election and the project offered him the potential to earn “hundreds of millions.”
He said Trump implicitly directed him to lie, too.
“In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same 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,” Cohen said. “There were at least a half-dozen times between the Iowa caucus in January 2016 and the end of June when he would ask me ‘How’s it going in Russia?’ referring to the Moscow Tower project.”
Cohen’s opening statement begins.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) attacked Cohen’s trustworthiness — a card members of his party will likely play repeatedly throughout the hearing. Jordan claimed that Lanny Davis, Cohen’s attorney, had “choreographed” the entire hearing as a “loyalist” to and “operative” for Bill and Hillary Clinton.
There won’t be much questioning about the Russia investigation if Cummings has his way. He said he initially wanted to “limit the scope of the questioning” to exclude Russia altogether but acknowledged Cohen’s opening statement briefly mentions the investigation.
Cummings vowed there would be repercussions for Cohen if it were later found that he had withheld the truth.
“I will be the first one to refer those untruthful statements to DOJ,” the chairman said. “He has a lot to lose if he lies.”
Cummings addressed Cohen’s history of lying to Congress and whether he could be trusted. The hearing, Cummings said, would give Americans the chance to decide for themselves.
“Mr. Cohen admitted to violating campaign finance laws and other laws … in coordination with and at the direction of President Trump,” he said. “Some will certainly ask, if he was lying then, why should we believe him now? This is a legitimate question.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are in search of the truth,” he added.
Cohen, meanwhile, says he is prepared to show some receipts to corroborate his allegations.
— Andy Campbell and Sara Boboltz
“The American people have a right to hear him so we’re going to proceed,” Cummings said of Cohen’s testimony. The hearing moves forward.
The drama begins. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) initiated a vote to postpone the hearing because Cohen’s testimony was released Tuesday night and not with 24 hours notice.
Read Cohen’s prepared opening statement: