Michael Cohen accused his former boss, President Donald Trump, of multiple serious crimes during sworn testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday. Among the alleged crimes: bank fraud, tax fraud, and campaign finance violations.
This was the second time Cohen, Trump’s longtime “fixer,” appeared before Congress to testify. The former lawyer told prosecutors this week that he had lied while testifying before lawmakers in November 2017 but now, facing three years in jail, wanted to set the record straight about Trump, who he repeatedly described as a “cheat” and a “con man” who was dividing the country.
“I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience,” he said in prepared remarks. “I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.”
Below are some of the myriad “illicit acts” in which Cohen implicated the president on Wednesday:
Cohen claimed he briefed the president’s family members within the Trump Organization — including the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., and his daughter Ivanka — that Russia-born businessman, felon, and former mobster Felix Sater was trying to work out a deal with the Russians to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 Election. In 2015, Trump signed a letter of intent to build the billion dollar project that was scrapped in 2016. However, in 2017, Trump Jr. testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he wasn’t involved and knew very little about the project.
Cohen claimed Trump signed a $35,000 check reimbursing the former lawyer for a $130,000 hush-money payment Cohen made to adult film star Stormy Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford) ahead of the election, preventing her from going public about her alleged affair with the future president, claims which would have damaged Trump’s campaign. Cohen said Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, also signed checks reimbursing Cohen for the hush-money payments.
Cohen was sentenced in December to three years in jail after pleading guilty to lying to Congress about the payment, and to tax and campaign finance violations related to the matter.
Cohen claimed Trump directed his now-defunct charity, the Trump Foundation, to refund a fake bidder he paid to purchase a portrait of himself at an auction in the Hamptons in 2013. Cohen said Trump directed him to “find a straw bidder” that would buy the portrait and ensure it was sold at a high cost. The bidder paid $60,000 for the portrait, and Cohen claimed Trump then used Trump Foundation funds to reimburse the bidder so he could keep the art, which now hangs in one of his country clubs.
Cohen claimed Trump knew WikiLeaks would drop hacked Democratic National Committee emails before it happened. In his testimony on Wednesday, Cohen alleged that Trump found out about the plan in July 2016, shortly before the documents were published online. He claimed Trump was first informed of the plan earlier that month by former adviser Roger Stone, who had been ousted from the campaign the year prior. Cohen alleged Trump received a phone call from Stone which he answered on speakerphone. He said Stone then allegedly told Trump that WikiLeaks had a trove of emails that would hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign, which it would publish soon, to which Trump allegedly replied, “Wouldn’t that be great.”
WikiLeaks has claimed it never spoke with Stone about the document dump, which took place on July 22, 2016, and Trump has repeatedly denied knowing about the plan ahead of time.
Cohen claimed the National Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc., were engaged in “catch and kill” practices on behalf of Trump prior to 2007. David Pecker, the chairman and CEO of AMI, previously said in December that the Enquirer had reached an agreement with Trump during the campaign to purchase exclusive rights to any negative story about Trump in order to bury it. AMI said it worked “in concert” with Trump’s campaign, for instance, to purchase former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story about an alleged affair with Trump, before ultimately killing it to prevent it from hurting Trump’s White House bid. McDougal was given $150,000 in hush money payments to stay quiet about the alleged affair.
On Wednesday, Cohen said the practice allegedly began long before the election, and before he was hired on in 2007. He insinuated that there were other women, like McDougal, who may also have been paid off, but did not recall any specific details.
Cohen claimed Trump inflated his net worth to lenders, inflated property values to insurers, and deflated property values for tax dodging purposes. Cohen specifically said in his testimony that Trump inflated his assets by $4 billion in one instance to obtain a loan from Deutsche Bank to purchase the NFL football franchise Buffalo Bills. Ultimately, he did not make the purchase, after he was outbid by multi-billionaire Terry Pegula. Cohen said during the hearing, “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.”
Attorneys for Trump allegedly edited and changed Cohen’s testimony the first time he appeared before Congress in 2017. According to Cohen, Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow allegedly made changes and additions to Cohen’s testimony surrounding the timing of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations before Cohen delivered the statement to lawmakers. Cohen originally said those negotiations surrounding the tower project ended in January 2016 but the negotiations may have lasted far longer.
In November last year, Cohen said he had lied about the timing in his initial testimony, adding that the negotiations had actually lasted through June 2016, around the time of the Republican National Convention (however, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer on the Russia probe, has said the negotiations may have lasted even longer than that, up through Trump’s election in November that year). Sekulow has since denied these claims.
NEW: Statement from Jay Sekulow, Counsel to the President:
“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.”
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) February 27, 2019
Cohen claimed federal prosecutors are currently investigating an as-of-yet unknown crime that involves Trump. During his testimony Wednesday, Cohen acknowledged that federal prosecutors in New York were probing a separate crime allegedly involving Trump, about which he was not at liberty to speak. When pressed, Cohen said the matter was being looked at by the Southern District of New York.
It’s not clear exactly which crime Cohen is referring to. However, his answer came in response to a question from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), who asked if there was “any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven’t yet discussed today[.]”
Cohen additionally claimed in his testimony on Wednesday that covering up Trump’s crimes was effectively part of the job description at the Trump Organization.
“Everybody’s job at the Trump Organization is to protect Mr. Trump,” Cohen said. “Every day, most of us knew we were coming in and we were going to lie for him on something. And that became the norm, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now in this country.”