Former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen is testifying before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday. This post will be updated as the hearing develops.
Update 5:45 p.m.: After some seven hours, the Cohen hearing has come to a close. Trump’s former lawyer used his final remarks to once again criticize his old boss and warn about the effects he could have on the country. Cohen said he fears that if Trump loses in 2020, “there will never be a peaceful transition of power.” He also called on others close to Trump to speak out and no longer stay silent. “I have acknowledged I have made my own mistakes and I have owned up to them publicly and under oath, but silence and complicity in the face of the daily destruction of our basic norms and civility to one another will not be one of them,” he said.
Cohen added that his loyalty to Trump “has cost me everything” but he “will not sit back, say nothing and allow him to do the same to the country.” Cohen is now scheduled to meet with members of the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors on Thursday.
Update 2:35 p.m.: Cohen has rejected some of the most salacious rumors about his work for Trump and about the president himself, including the Steele Dossier’s story that Cohen went to Prague in the middle of the 2016 campaign to conspire with Russians and the rumor that there’s an elevator tape of Donald Trump assaulting his wife Melania.
However, there was a second key moment in the questioning when Cohen offered additional details on the most blockbuster allegation in his opening statement: The claim that he was in the room when Roger Stone called then-candidate Trump and Stone, while on speaker phone, told Trump that he had spoken with Julian Assange and a document dump damaging to Clinton was forthcoming.
Roger Stone on Wednesday denied to BuzzFeed that this happened.
Cohen, however, seemed to indicate that there was at least some potential corroborating evidence. When asked if there was any such evidence, he said: “I’m not in possession, but I believe it is part of the special counsel, and they probably are best suited to corroborate that information.”
He added that, while he didn’t recall anyone else being in the room at the time of the alleged call, “when [Stone] called, [Trump assistant] Rhona Graff, yelled out to Mr. Trump, ‘Roger is on line one,’ which was regular practice.”
Cohen went on to say that this call allegedly occurred on “July 18 or July 19.” Crucially, last year, in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of Russians for allegedly conspiring to hack the Democratic National Committee, Mueller reported that WikiLeaks confirmed to Russian cutout Guccifer 2.0 that it had received the hacked documents on July 18 and would publish them that week. Later that week the hacked documents were released by Julian Assange’s organization.
Cohen did not provide any independent corroboration of his claim about the call and its timing, and it is obviously possible that he concocted the dates using Mueller’s previous filings. The question will now become, though, what precise corroborating information Mueller might have.
Update 1:20 p.m.: After a brief break, the second session of the hearing has been fairly short on substance and long on posturing from both sides. There was one key moment when Rep. Jamie Raskin asked Cohen which of Trump’s lawyers saw his false statement to Congress about the Moscow Trump Tower project. Cohen testified that one of those lawyers was Jay Sekulow. He also testified that President Trump’s attorneys requested changes to his testimony, specifically on the issue of how long the project was going on. That is precisely the portion of Cohen’s testimony for which he pled guilty to perjury.
“There were changes made, additions,” Cohen said. “There were several changes that were made including how we were going to handle that message […] the message of course being the length of time that the Trump Tower Moscow project stayed and remained alive.”
Raskin followed up to confirm that this was one of the changes requested by Trump’s lawyers, and Cohen replied, simply, “Yes.” This would seem to directly implicate whichever Trump attorney demanded the change, and perhaps the president himself, in Cohen’s false statements to Congress.
Update 11:55 a.m.: In perhaps one of the most shocking moments of the hearing so far, Rep. Mark Meadows brought out Housing and Urban Development official and former party planner Lynne Patton, who is black, to demonstrate that President Donald Trump could not possibly be a racist.
In his opening testimony, Cohen directly accused Trump of being a racist. He also alleged, without corroboration, that he heard Trump make a number of racist statements in his time working for him. Those included:
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.
And, he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.
Update 11:22 a.m.: Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump accused Cohen of already perjuring himself. In response to questioning from ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan, Cohen said he was content being the president’s personal attorney and hadn’t been desperate for a job in the White House. Cohen said that he turned down a job working with Don McGahn in the White House Counsel’s Office because of how it might implicate attorney-client privilege. Trump Jr. said that Cohen had actually been desperate at the time for the job of chief of staff, which eventually went to Reince Priebus.
Update 11:11 a.m.: After Cohen’s opening statement, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings opened the questioning by asking Trump’s former attorney about his payments to Stormy Daniels, which Trump had initially denied knowing anything about. Cohen said that there is actually a corroborating witness for the fact that Trump was heavily involved in the payment.
Cohen testified that “each and every time” he spoke with Daniels’ attorney Keith Davidson about hush money payments, he went “straight into Mr. Trump’s office and discussed the issue with him.” During the critical meeting when the payment was authorized, Cohen said Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg was in the room with him and Trump. “He acknowledged to Allen that he was going to pay the $130,000 and that Allen and I should go back to his office and figure out how to do it,” Cohen said. Weisselberg is cooperating with investigators in the Southern District of New York and has reportedly received immunity for that cooperation.
Original Post 9:31 a.m.: Cohen’s testimony already made news before it even began. It was supposed to occur earlier this month but was postponed when Cohen claimed that statements by the president and Trump’s representatives made him fearful for his and his family’s safety. Then on Thursday, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz—a close Trump ally—was repeatedly slapped on the wrist by what seemed like all of legal Twitter when he appeared to threaten revelations about Cohen’s personal life. This may or may not have been a case of light witness tampering, but Gaetz deleted the tweet and apologized after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a terse and vague statement alluding to potential sanctions.
Meanwhile, several news outlets released Cohen’s prepared statements. Those remarks include old allegations that Trump said some extraordinarily racist things in front of his former fixer, that he had ordered Cohen to pay adult film performer Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged affair in order to illegally influence the 2016 election, that Trump used strawman bidders in a possibly illegal nonprofit foundation scheme, and that Trump lied to the American public about his business dealings with Russia around the time Cohen was still working on a deal for a Moscow Trump Tower.
They also include some new allegations, specifically that Trump instructed Cohen to bully schools and boards into not releasing his grades and SAT scores, that he made generally embarrassing comments about evading the draft for the Vietnam War and about the “worst in the world” judgment of his own son Donald Trump Jr., and most relevantly that he received a warning from Roger Stone in July 2016 that Julian Assange was going to begin leaking emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Those emails had been stolen by Russia, according to the U.S. intelligence community and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, as part of an effort to cause chaos in the U.S. and tilt the election against Clinton.
Though the scope of this public hearing is supposed to exclude “questions relating to the Intelligence Committee’s investigation of efforts by Russia and other foreign entities to influence the U.S. political process during and since the 2016 U.S. election,” this last bit about Stone clearly implicates the heart of both the House Intelligence Committee’s probe and the special counsel’s investigation. Cohen is scheduled to testify privately before the House Intel Committee on Thursday and already appeared behind closed doors before Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.
Oh! And Cohen promised to bring physical evidence of Trump’s misdeeds to Wednesday’s hearings. It seems, however, as though many of those documents may only prove crimes to which Cohen has already confessed and for which he will soon be serving a three-year prison sentence.