Michael Cohen’s contentious, hours-long testimony before Congress Wednesday wasn’t necessarily rife with new details, but President Trump’s former personal attorney managed to deliver a few bombshells.
Still, most of the day was devoted to partisan bickering between members of the Democrat-led House Oversight Committee, and to the dueling descriptions offered of Cohen. To Republicans, he was a money-grabbing schemer with a history of lying. To Democrats, Cohen was a redeemable linchpin in their effort to learn more about Trump’s shady financial dealings.
Cohen will begin a three-year prison sentence in May, and has pleaded guilty to numerous financial crimes, as well as charges of lying to Congress about the timeline of Trump’s real estate project in Moscow during the course of his presidential campaign.
When offered the opportunity to describe why he wanted to appear before Congress in the first place, Cohen explained “my loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything.”
Here are the key revelations:
Trump is being investigated for other potential crimes
While Cohen didn’t get into explicit details, he said during his testimony that the Southern District of New York is investigating criminal allegations related to the president that haven’t yet been made public.
When Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois, asked Cohen about his last conversation with Trump, Cohen said he couldn’t disclose the content of the discussion because “this topic is actually something being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York.”
Cohen said he was asked not to discuss anything currently under investigation. When asked if the matter was not already related to something the committee had brought up in more than an hour on questioning, Cohen said “yes, and again, those are parts of the investigation” that are being looked at by federal attorneys.
Federal prosecutors with the Southern District investigated Cohen’s campaign finance violation, and also recently issued a subpoena for information about the financing of Trump’s inaugural committee.
Trump and Don Jr. reimbursed Cohen for his hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels
Trump repaid Cohen for the “hush-money” wired to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, or Stephanie Clifford, to keep her from revealing an alleged affair in 2006. The president has repeatedly denied he had an affair with Clifford, or that he was involved with the payments.
Cohen showed the committee a check signed by Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, that was intended to reimburse Cohen for a portion of the $130,000 he paid in hush payments. After it was agreed upon October 2016 that Clifford would receive $130,000 from Cohen in exchange for her silence, Daniels signed a non-disclosure agreement.
Cohen also provided a copy of a $35,000 check that Trump signed, as president, in August 2017 — part of the 11 check installments paid throughout the year. Another check was signed by Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization who has agreed to cooperate with federal attorneys in the Southern District of New York in exchange for immunity.
Cohen also testified that Trump asked him to lie to Melania Trump about the payments.
“Lying to the first lady is one of my biggest regrets,” Cohen said Wednesday. “She is a kind, good person.”
Trump knew in advance that WikiLeaks was about to dump DNC emails
Cohen testified that he was in the room when Roger Stone, Trump’s former campaign advisor, called Trump and told him via speakerphone that WikiLeaks had emails allegedly stolen by Russian hackers from the Democratic National Committee, and was set to leak them. The leak is now being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and Stone was charged in January for trying to conceal his relationship with WikiLeaks. Stone has denied any wrongdoing.
“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,” Cohen said. Trump allegedly responded: “Wouldn’t that be great.”
Stone wrote in an email to VICE News that “Mr. Cohen’s testimony is entirely untrue.”
Trump’s lawyers allegedly edited Cohen’s testimony on the Trump Tower Moscow deal
Cohen told the committee Wednesday that his previous testimony to Congress, which was later found to contain false assertions, had been edited by Trump’s lawyers beforehand.
“Mr. Trump's personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it.”
Trump’s lawyers denied Cohen's assertion in a statement sent to several media outlets later in the day, saying Cohen’s allegations were “completely false.”
Read: Republicans tried to paint Michael Cohen as a greedy liar with a book deal he doesn’t have (yet)
The deal to build Trump Tower Moscow, which Trump characterized as “very legal and very cool” in a November tweet, never materialized. Cohen admitted he falsely told Congress that plans for the Moscow development ended in January 2016, when they actually ended in June.
Cohen said Wednesday that he continued to brief Trump regarding updates about the development deal, and that he briefed Trump’s children, Ivanka and Don. Jr, about the project at least 10 times.
That appears to contradict what Trump Jr. told Congress, as he stated he was only “peripherally aware” of the Moscow plans.
Cohen estimated he made 500 threats on Trump's behalf
Cohen said he was asked to threaten people on Trump’s behalf “quite a few times” during questioning by Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California. He then clarified it was “probably” more than 500 times.
“And when you say threatened I’m talking with litigation or an argument with a nasty reporter that is writing an article,” Cohen said.
While Cohen urged Trump in his closing statements to avoid attacking “the media and those who question what you don’t like,” he notably told a Daily Beast reporter in 2015 to “tread very fucking lightly” on a story regarding Trump’s divorce with his first wife, Ivana.
“What I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?” Cohen wrote in an email at the time.
Accusations of racism
In his sworn testimony, Cohen claimed Trump made racist statements in private multiple times. To refute that, apparently, Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina, invited Housing and Urban Development staffer Lynne Patton to the hearing to deny that Trump is a racist. Patton is black, and while she didn’t speak, Meadows said she had said previously that she would never work for a racist.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a freshman Democrat from Michigan, later criticized that move as tokenizing Patton, and said the act was itself racist.
"And it is insensitive that some would even say — the fact that some would actually use a prop, a black woman in this chamber in this committee is alone racist in itself,” Tlaib said.
Meadows promptly tried to cut in, and later asked that her statement be struck from the record, and took it as a personal offense. Tlaib clarified that she wasn’t calling Meadows a racist.
“You made a lot of mistakes, Mr. Cohen”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland and chairman of the committee, closed the sometimes raucous hearing Wednesday by pleading for more humanity.
“You’ve made a lot of mistakes, Mr. Cohen, and you’ve admitted that,” Cummings said. And one of the saddest parts of this whole things are that some very innocent people are hurting too.”
He continued: “As a country, we are so much better than this.”
Cohen appeared sullen as Cummings said he hoped Trump’s former personal attorney would change for the better, along with the rest of the country. Cummings also acknowledged it must be painful for Cohen to know he’ll soon be separated from his family for three years.
“We have got to get back to normal,” Cummings said as he adjourned the hearing to applause.
Cover image: Michael Cohen, former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump, testifies before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill February 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. Last year Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine for tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, unlawful excessive campaign contributions and lying to Congress as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)