Donald Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen testified Wednesday that Trump was aware of his longtime confidante Roger Stone’s efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks ahead of the release of hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign.
In a dramatic opening statement, Cohen displayed to the House Oversight Committee a copy of a reimbursement check that he said Trump signed as President in 2017 — which he says was reimbursement for the hush-money payments to women made during the campaign — and said that Trump knew about the pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project well into the 2016 campaign, despite public claims Trump had no business with Russia.
Cohen’s testimony, which is likely his last chance to weigh in publicly on the President before he reports to prison in May, is sure to feature fireworks in a high-profile showdown between a Trump loyalist-turned-Robert Mueller cooperator taking his story public and Republican defenders of the President who will attack Cohen’s credibility.
Cohen’s hearing will also create a classic split-screen: He’s testifying about what he says are Trump’s misdeeds while the President is in Vietnam meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The White House has attacked Cohen’s credibility, labeling him someone who cannot be trusted after he already pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.
“Disgraced felon Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying to Congress and making other false statements,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in that statement. “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.”
In his opening statement, Cohen launched a broadside against Trump, accusing him of being “a racist,” “a conman” and “a cheat.”
Cohen also plans to provide new details claiming Trump was heavily involved in the pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project in 2016. Cohen lied to Congress about that project in 2017 — which he pleaded guilty to in December — covering up how far into the campaign the discussions went.
“To be clear, Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Tower negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it,” Cohen will tell the committee. “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.”
CNN reported in July 2018 that Cohen was willing to testify to the special counsel that Trump knew in advance about the planned meeting at Trump Tower.
Cohen said that Trump did not “directly” tell him to lie to Congress, but that Trump would tell him personally and the public that he had “no business” with Russia, even as he was negotiating the Moscow project.
“In his way, he was telling me to lie,” Cohen said.
Cohen also gave the committee copies of letters he wrote threatening Trump’s high school, his college and the College Board not to release his grades or test scores.
In his opening statement, House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said that the new evidence Cohen provided “raises a host of troubling legal and ethical concerns about the President’s actions in the White House and before.”
“Mr. Cohen’s testimony raises grave questions about the legality of President Donald Trump’s conduct, and the truthfulness of statements while he was president,” Cummings said. “We need to assess and investigate this new evidence as we uphold our constitutional oversight responsibilities.”
But Republicans objected to Cohen’s appearance before the committee from the moment the gavel dropped, as North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, a key conservative ally of the President, made a motion to postpone the hearing because Congress had not received his prepared testimony 24 hours before the hearing.
“It was an intentional effort by this witnesses and his advisors to once again show his disdain for this body,” Meadows said, but Democrats blocked his procedural effort.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the committee, said that Cummings’ tenure would be marked by bringing in Cohen, whom he labeled a “fraudster, a cheat, convicted felon and, in two months, a federal inmate.”
“You’re their patsy today,” Jordan said of Cohen. “They’ve got to find somebody somewhere to say something so they can try to remove the president from office.”
Wednesday’s hearing is the second of three congressional appearances for Cohen this week after he appeared behind closed doors before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday and will do the same before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, which are both settings where he will be quizzed on Russia matters.
Cohen’s congressional appearances come before he is scheduled to report to prison on May 6 for a three-year sentence after he pleaded guilty to tax crimes, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress in 2017.
Cummings said that he would not prevent committee members from asking questions about the Russia investigation at Wednesday’s hearing. Cummings had originally said the scope of the hearing would not include Russia but said at the hearing that after objections from Jordan, Russia questions were now within the scope of the hearing.
Cummings said he was allowing the Russia questions also because Cohen made statements about the investigation in his written testimony, and because they “do not raise concern from the Department of Justice.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday and will continue to update throughout the day.
By Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju, CNN