Michael Cohen, President Trump’s estranged former attorney and “fixer,” begins three days hotly anticipated testimony on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. And he’s bringing a basketful of Trump’s dirtiest laundry with him.
Cohen is expected to accuse Trump of engaging in criminal activity after taking office, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, citing a person familiar with Cohen’s plans. Cohen’s also expected to detail alleged instances in which Trump used racist language and lied about the size of his fortune. And he’s reportedly going to bring along documents.
After a decade by Trump’s side, during which he’s said he covered up Trump’s “dirty deeds,” Cohen split from his former boss last year and committed to speaking out publicly about what he knows. After pleading guilty to a smorgasbord of crimes, including campaign finance violations and previously lying to Congress, he’s returning to the Hill and pledging to tell it straight this time.
As Cohen begins his intense tour of the hearing rooms of Capitol Hill, here are five things you need to know.
1. A focus on Trump’s money
Cohen is expected to have a lot to say about Trump’s business practices, including occasions he may have strayed onto the shadier side.
The House Oversight Committee has said Cohen will speak about Trump’s “debts and payments relating to efforts to influence the 2016 election” and his “compliance with tax laws.”
In November, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress when he said that attempts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign ended in January 2016. Instead, he admitted that the discussions were more extensive and prolonged.
Cohen said in November that he’d had a previously undisclosed phone call with a Kremlin aide in early 2016, during which he sought the Russian government’s help securing land and financing for the deal. And he said that he’d briefed Trump about the project on more than the three occasions he’d previously acknowledged.
Cohen has admitted that discussions aimed at winning government approval for the project continued until at least June 2016. And he’s planning to tell members of Congress that Trump continued to inquire about the project past January 2016, a source told the Journal.
Cohen is expected to shed more light on those lies — but isn’t expected to say whether Trump directed him to misstate the facts, a person familiar with Wednesday’s planned testimony told the WSJ.
Neither the White House nor Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, returned a request for comment from VICE News on Tuesday.
2. Campaign finance shenanigans
Cohen worked for Trump for a decade and has admitted to helping cover up damaging information about his former boss during the run-up to the 2016 election. Cohen pleaded guilty last August to helping arrange hush-money payments to two women claiming they’d had affairs with Trump during the campaign.
In August, Cohen implicated Trump in directing those payments. In December, federal prosecutors in New York backed him up and said that the payments were made “at the direction of” Trump.
This week, Cohen will give a detailed account of how those payments went down, according to both the Times and the Journal.
Cohen will also assert that Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg was involved in those efforts, the person familiar with Cohen’s planned testimony told the WSJ. Weisselberg has reportedly been granted immunity and has testified before a grand jury.
3. Trump’s alleged racist statements
Cohen’s testimony will also reportedly include stories about Trump making racist comments — an allegation that’s been made in the past.
Cohen told Vanity Fair in November that Trump repeatedly used racist language. In one example, he told the magazine about a conversation he once had with Trump in the late 2000s, when the two men were driving through Chicago together.
“We were going from the airport to the hotel, and we drove through what looked like a rougher neighborhood,” the magazine quoted Cohen as sayin. “Trump made a comment to me, saying only blacks could live like this.”
Cohen wouldn’t be the first former Trump official to accuse him of making racist comments. Omarosa Manigault Newman, a contestant on Trump’s reality TV show and later a White House aide, accused Trump of using the “n-word.” Manigault said a tape exists that would prove it — although, as with Cohen, her credibility has been challenged by the White House and Trump’s defenders.
Trump has also routinely been accused of using slanted speech when discussing foreign policy. For example, he infamously referred to immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries as coming from “shithole countries.”
4. No Russia probe stuff in public
Of Cohen’s three Congressional gigs this week, only one will be televised: Wednesday’s appearance before the House Oversight Committee. The other two will take place behind closed doors: Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee and Thursday before the House Intelligence Committee.
Cohen’s public testimony on Wednesday will not include any questions about Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election, the House Oversight Committee leadership said in a memo released last week.
Instead, the memo said Cohen’s day of public testimony will focus on:
- Trump’s debts and payments relating to efforts to influence the 2016 Election
- Trump’s compliance with financial disclosure requirements
- Trump’s compliance with campaign finance laws
- Trump’s compliance with tax laws
- Trump’s business practices
- Potentially fraudulent or inappropriate practices by the Trump Foundation
5. The return of a known liar
Republicans on all three committees will have their own list of questions for Trump’s longtime attorney and will likely try to throw him off his game. They have already signaled they’ll point to Cohen’s acknowledged history of lying to show that his new allegations shouldn’t be believed either.
Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, the top-ranking Republican on the House Oversight Committee, called holding a hearing with an “admitted liar” part of a Democratic attempt to kickstart impeachment proceedings against Trump.
“I am disappointed and disheartened that Chairman [Elijah] Cummings’s first major hearing will feature Michael Cohen as phase one of the Democrats’ coordinated campaign to remove the President from office,” Jordan said in a statement. “Giving a platform to Mr. Cohen is beneath the dignity of the Congress.”
Trump has also accused his former lawyer of making up stories in an effort to reduce his own prison time.
Cover image: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, arrives to testify before a closed door hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)