Michael Cohen will share devastating testimony about President Trump’s business dealings in Moscow, sketchy finances and personal flaws at a Wednesday hearing before the House Oversight Committee.
Cohen’s prepared remarks paint Trump as a “conman” and “cheat” who built a business and political career by taking advantage of others.
In Cohen’s telling, Trump willfully lied about the ongoing work on a Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 campaign, about the hush money payment scheme to his alleged former lovers, and about having advance knowledge that WikiLeaks would release emails damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
We break down the key points from Cohen’s 20-page prepared testimony below.
Trump was intimately involved with Trump Tower Moscow plans
Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to federal agents about when negotiations over building a Moscow Trump Tower ended. Cohen admitted to telling Congress that negotiations stopped in January 2016 – in fact, they continued until at least June of that year.
In his planned testimony, Cohen addresses his lies about the Trump Tower Moscow project (one proposal would have given Vladimir Putin the penthouse suite), and alleges that Trump-the-candidate continued to ask about the project during the campaign:
- 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 5 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.
- 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.
- Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it.
- 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.
Trump knew about WikiLeaks email dumps in advance
At the heart of accusations over Russian interference in the 2016 election is WikiLeaks’ release of emails allegedly hacked from the DNC and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account.
GOP operative Roger Stone – who is currently fighting criminal charges of lying and obstruction of justice from Mueller – stated in public that he knew about the Podesta leak in advance, and expressed foreknowledge of the timing of the release.
Cohen alleges that Stone told Trump that he was in touch with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange before the release of DNC emails in late July 2016, earlier than previously suspected, and that Trump expressed approval.
- As I earlier stated, Mr. Trump knew from Roger Stone in advance about the WikiLeaks drop of emails. In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone.
- Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that 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.
- Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect of “wouldn’t that be great.”
Cohen’s recollections about notorious Trump Tower meeting
Beyond Wikileaks, other accusations of alleged cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Russian government have dogged the campaign. Specifically, the question of whether Trump promised policy changes favorable to Russia in exchange for support in the presidential campaign remain unanswered.
Investigators have homed in on a June 2016 meeting between Trump’s son Don Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Russia-born D.C. lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin also attended.
Cohen says that he does not know if the Trump campaign “colluded with Russia.” He does recall that Trump may have discussed the June 2016 meeting with his son.
- Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not. I want to be clear. But, I have my suspicions
- I remember being in the room with Mr. Trump, probably in early June 2016, when something peculiar happened. Don Jr. came into the room and walked behind his father’s desk – which in itself was unusual. People didn’t just walk behind Mr. Trump’s desk to talk to him. I recalled Don Jr. leaning over to his father and speaking in a low voice, which I could clearly hear, and saying: “The meeting is all set.” I remember Mr. Trump saying, “Ok good…let me know.”
- What struck me as I looked back and thought about that exchange between Don Jr. and his father was, first, that 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.
Trump personally signed hush money reimbursement checks to Cohen
A key part of Cohen’s criminal case involved the payments he made to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep them quiet about their alleged affairs with Trump in the lead-up to Election Day 2016. Cohen admitted that he negotiated these payments “at the direction” of Trump, and was subsequently reimbursed in full by the Trump Organization. Trump’s attorneys have claimed that Cohen was actually paid a $35,000 monthly retainer for legal services.
- As Exhibit 5 to my testimony shows, 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 cover-up, 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.
- The President of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the
payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign
- So picture this scene – in February 2017, one month into his presidency,
I’m visiting President Trump in the Oval Office for the first time. It’s truly
awe-inspiring, he’s showing me around and pointing to different paintings,
and he says to me something to the effect of…Don’t worry, Michael, your January and February reimbursement checks are coming. They were Fed-Exed from New York and it takes a while for that to get through the White House system. As he promised, I received the first check for the reimbursement of $70,000 not long thereafter.
Trump’s history of self-promotion, tax evasion and racism
Leaks of Cohen’s prepared testimony showed he would testify about Trump’s history of making racist comments about black people and of his relentless, ruthless burnishing of his self-image. More damagingly, Cohen said he would provide documents bolstering his claims that Trump inflated or deflated his net worth as it suited him in order to dodge paying taxes.
- Mr. Trump is a racist. The country has seen Mr. Trump court white
supremacists and bigots. You have heard him call poorer countries
“shitholes.” In private, he is even worse. He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a “shithole.” This was when Barack Obama was President of the United States. While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way.
- Mr. Trump is a cheat. As previously stated, I’m giving the Committee today three years of President Trump’s financial statements, from 2011-2013, which he gave to
Deutsche Bank to inquire about a loan to buy the Buffalo Bills and to
Forbes. These are Exhibits 1a, 1b, and 1c to my testimony.
- 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.
- Mr. Trump claimed it was because of a bone spur, but when I asked for
medical records, he gave me none and said there was no surgery. He told
me not to answer the specific questions by reporters but rather offer simply
the fact that he received a medical deferment. He finished the conversation with the following comment. “You think I’m stupid, I wasn’t going to Vietnam.”