Updated: 13:15 a.m. ET
Michael Cohen told the House Oversight Committee Wednesday that Donald Trump was given advance notice about the release of hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign.
Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney and “fixer,” said Trump was informed by his longtime aide Roger Stone that the renegade transparency group WikiLeaks, which has been accused of receiving hacked Democratic emails from Russian intelligence operatives, planned to release those documents publicly during the election.
In July 2016, Stone, according to Cohen, called Trump to tell him the news in the "days before the Democratic convention." Later that same month, Trump publicly called on Russia to hack Clinton.
The allegation, if true, means that Trump personally got an early heads-up about email dumps that special counsel Robert Mueller has said were part of a far-reaching effort by Russia to tilt the election in Trump’s favor.
Stone, Trump’s longtime political adviser, has been indicted by Mueller for lying to Congress about his attempts to reach out to WikiLeaks’ leader, Julian Assange. Mueller, however, has stopped short of saying Stone’s attempts to reach Assange were successful.
“Mr. Trump knew from Roger Stone in advance about the WikiLeaks drop of emails,” Cohen told the committee.
“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.’”
Stone has denied ever communicating with WikiLeaks about the emails, even though he claimed publicly during the campaign to have been in touch with Assange.
“Mr. Cohen’s testimony is entirely untrue,” Stone wrote Wednesday in an emailed response to VICE News.
Stone’s denial came despite a gag order in his case issued by Judge Amy Berman Jackson last week, who barred him from speaking “publicly about the investigation or the case or any of the participants in the investigation or the case. Period.”
The gag order, however, does allow Stone to continue to raise funds and to maintain his innocence. “You may send out as many emails, tweets, posts as you choose that say, Please donate to the Roger Stone defense fund,” Jackson said, according to a transcript of the hearing. “And you may add that you deny or are innocent of the charges, but that’s the extent of it.”
Trump told Mueller in writing that Stone never told him about WikiLeaks, and that he didn’t know about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, CNN reported in November, citing two sources “familiar with the matter.” Trump has repeatedly denied colluding with Russia.
Cohen also testified that he believes he heard Trump’s son, Don Jr., tell Trump about another infamous point of connection between the Trump campaign and Russia: The Trump Tower meeting of June 2016.
At that mid-campaign sit-down, top Trump campaign brass gathered in Manhattan with a lawyer from Moscow billed as bringing dirt on Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Although Don Jr. received an email informing him that the meeting was supposed to be about the Russian government’s support for Trump’s campaign, those present at the meeting would later suggest the event itself covered other, unrelated topics.
But questions have swirled about the meeting’s significance, and about whether Trump himself knew about plans to meet with the Kremlin-linked lawyer in advance.
“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,’” Cohen told the committee. “I remember Mr. Trump saying, “‘Ok good…let me know.’”
Cohen’s testimony continued: “I concluded that Don Jr. was referring to that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting about dirt on Hillary with the Russian representative when he walked behind his dad’s desk that day -- and that Mr. Trump knew that was the meeting Don Jr. was talking about when he said, ‘That’s good…let me know.’”
Don Jr. has testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he never told Trump about that meeting. Trump, likewise, denied in writing to Mueller that he was told about it in advance, according to CNN’s sources.
Cover image: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, arrives at federal court for his sentencing hearing, December 12, 2018 in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)